Connecticut Boy Scouts Are Changing Their Policy on Gay Members, and It's Paying Off
An all-inclusive policy has led to additional funding for some CT scout troops
The National Boy Scouts of America has a policy against allowing "open or avowed homosexuals," but some CT troops are disregarding that rule in favor of inclusiveness. (Janine Lamontagne photo / August 21, 2012)
And that non-discriminatory approach has allowed one Hartford-region scouting organization to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the United Way. Another major scouting group in the New Haven-Fairfield County area appears to be missing out on United Way funding because its officers haven’t signed a declaration that they don’t discriminate against gays.
The issue of the Boy Scouts anti-gay attitude is drawing headlines and debate around the country. Both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have come out against the long-standing national Boy Scout policy to deny membership to “open or avowed homosexuals.”
National Boy Scout leaders seem to be having trouble convincing all their local organizations to uphold that policy against admitting gays.
“We have leaders that are gay,” says Steven Smith, head of the Connecticut Rivers Council, the largest Boy Scout organization in the Hartford region. “It’s not an issue.”
Smith insists his council’s attitude doesn’t conflict with that of the national leadership of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which last month once again announced it is standing by the group’s controversial anti-gay policy.
“You seem to see a conflict in it,” Smith says of his group’s apparent disconnect from the national organization’s policy on homosexuals. “We don’t… I’ve been in scouting for about 33 years and I’ve not removed anyone for being gay.”
Smith adds that he would back the dismissal of anyone, gay or straight, who tries to use the Boy Scouts to push a sexual agenda. “We don’t talk about sex in general,” Smith explains.
The national scouting policy states that BSA groups don’t “proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members.” But the policy continues that membership shouldn’t be allowed for “individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
Gay-rights groups and many politicians in both major parties have condemned the BSA’s anti-homosexual attitude, and the Girl Scouts of America adopted a non-discrimination policy in 1980.
“Clinging to a policy of exclusion and intolerance is hardly a good lesson for our young people,” says Darlene Nipper, deputy director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “The Boy Scouts of America continues to turn its back on a chance to demonstrate fairness, exercise sound judgment, and serve as a role model for valuing others.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declared in 2000 that the Boy Scouts are exempt from state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
Yet officials for the Connecticut Rivers Council have for years routinely signed a letter certifying to the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut that it doesn’t discriminate in any way against homosexuals or anyone else.
The United Way requires any organization asking for money to sign a “Diversity Policy Statement” guaranteeing that the group doesn’t discriminate “on the grounds of race, color, religious creed, age… sex, gender identity or expression… sexual orientation” or half-a-dozen other possible categories.
“Every agency we fund must certify every year that they do not discriminate,” says Susan Dunn, president of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.
Signing that statement has meant big bucks for the Connecticut Rivers Council. In 2010, according to the latest United Way records available, the scouting group received $149,832 from the United Way’s community investment program.
The Connecticut Rivers Council isn’t the only Boy Scout group that appears to be ignoring the national BSA mandate.
Out in Minnesota, some conservative Roman Catholic leaders were stunned when their local scouting council recently declared it would continue its policy of admitting openly homosexual individuals. Scouting officials in New York City and Boston say they have routinely sidestepped the BSA’s national anti-gay standard.
David Knapp, a gay scouting activist who’s been lobbying for years to change the BSA’s discriminatory policy, says “the majority of councils in New England… have not enforced the policy.”