For some time there has been bad blood between my local Philadelphia government and the Boy Scouts of America. It has come to a head this year when the city solicitor issued an ultimatum to the local Boy Scouts’, Cradle of Liberty Council.
Citing a local 1982 "fair practices" law, the city solicitor has given the Scouts until Dec. 3 to renounce its policy of excluding homosexuals or forfeit the grand, Beaux-Arts building it has rented from the city for $1 a year since 1928.
"While we respect the right of the Boy Scouts to prohibit participation in its activities by homosexuals," the solicitor, Romulo Diaz, said last week in an interview, "we will not subsidize that discrimination by passing on the costs to the people of Philadelphia."
As of 5:00pm today there was no response from the council. Philadelphia has a new mayor taking office in January and the council leadership hope to work out a deal when Michael Nutter is sworn in. This strikes me as very unlikely because, as a city council member, Nutter was in the majority in the 16 to 1 vote for the resolution that led to this impasse. (The picture on the right is the beautiful Beaux-Arts Building, home to the Cradle of Liberty Council.)
As a gay former scout I have to say that I wish the city had left this issue alone. I don’t like discrimination of any kind, but I also know what a great experience Boy Scouts was for me as a kid. I had a horrible relationship with my stepfather growing up and I hated being around him. In scouts I was exposed to men I could look up to and admire. Not allowing gays to act as Scout leaders does bother me, but not enough to do something that makes the Scouts less accessible to boys around the country.
Lets focus on gay marriage, gay adoption, the prosecution of hate crimes of every kind, and then, and only then, can we look at the scouting issue again – if we still have the energy.
As a scout in Florida in Boy Scout Troop 626, I knew I was gay, and I kept it to myself. The benefits of being a scout, for me, far out weighed the drawbacks (I’m don’t think there actually were any drawbacks) involved in staying in the closet. What thirteen year old will improve their life by coming out? Kids can be vicious at that age, but knowing two young men who are active in scouts, Corey and Thomas, I have to say that scouting has certainly not made them bigots. These are wonderful guys who are smart, capable, funny, and caring. If the scouts, under the current system, can turn out kids like that, then this is not a high priority issue for me.
There is a woman leading a troop in North Jersey who I respect immensely. She is not in the least homophobic. She is a compassionate, loving mother of one of the boys I mentioned earlier. She has been through all the rigorous training that Scout leadership entails. From our talks, and the stories she’s told, she sounds far more capable than my own scoutmaster down in Florida. (Sorry Mr. Beck, but its true.) This summer she took them to the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base and they had a wonderful (and educational) time. When I see people like Jeanne, and her son and nephew, I have a big problem with trying to force changes on the Boy Scouts of America from outside the organization. I also think change will come, in time, but right now we have bigger problems to deal with first.
There were 922,836 eleven to seventeen year old boys in scouts on December 31, 2006. I can’t think of any other organization that is working to make a difference in that many young men’s lives. Scouting knows no barriers based on economics or social strata. Sure, some troops are better funded than others, but when troops come together at summer camp or at a Jamboree they are not segrated by class. Some, no ALL, of my best memories of life in those years came from my time in Scouts. I spent several weeks at Camp Tanah Keeta and I had a great time and I learned some wonderful skills there.
I don’t have much hope for the future of the relationship between the Scouts and the City of Philadelphia, but who knows, maybe some compromise can be reached.