The news broke late last week that an openly gay Moraga boy was denied his Eagle Scout Award. I spent a good deal of time reading the comments on this Lamorinda Patch article as well as on other news sites, both regional and national.
Some commenters said things like, "What would you expect? This is an organization that does not allow gay leaders or openly gay scouts." (In 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled that, as a private organization, and despite anti-discrimination laws, the Boy Scouts of America could exclude gay people based on the first amendment right of free association.)
Others pointed out that the Boy Scout in question did not identify as gay through the bulk of his scouting career (he joined scouting at the age of 6), and so of course he wanted to continue what he started, continue to be a part of a community that he'd grown up in. As one commenter wrote, "He has worked toward this award MOST of his life, has been part of this group for MOST of his life. What have most adults put that much time and effort into achieving personally? Medical school, a Ph.D?"
While I was out and about in Alameda this weekend, during a Friday afternoon happy hour, on the soccer sidelines Saturday, and at a neighborhood block party, I asked parents about their choices to have—or not have—their sons participate in scouting. (According to the local council, Alameda has 31 units or troops, both Cub and Boy Scouts, and 826 active scouts.)
Many parents I spoke to were very clear: my son is not a scout because of the organization's policies toward gay people. Others have made a different choice. "Better to change it from within," they told me. "Alameda's scout troops are different" and "we're not like that in Alameda."
I am sure there are also Alameda parents who choose scouting for their children because they endorse the anti-gay policies of the organization.
In doing some reading, I was surprised to learn about religious involvement in scouting. In 2003 the New York Times article reported that the Mormon church chartered 26,000 scout troops (the Catholic church was the second biggest charterer at that time, with 17,000 affiliated troops). I don't know how many Alameda troops are church-sponsored.
Apparently the anti-gay policy is controversial within the organzation. Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed the policy on gay participation, with a closed-door, special committee that bypassed the full board. At least two board members openly opposed the decision.
I'm curious as to how a similiar situation would be handled here in Alameda—if an openly gay young man were to try to become an Eagle Scout. I called over to Alameda Scout Council's Charles Howard-Gibbon to ask.
Howard-Gibbon declined to comment in a form email, saying the situation in Moraga is not relevant to Alameda scouts. "We wish we could be more helpful, but there isn’t a local connection, and none of us in the Alameda Council have any greater level of knowledge."
I'm left wondering, is scouting less bigoted and more inclusive in Alameda? Or does your family choose scouting because of their policies related to gay people? Or do you participate for all the positives of the program, and hold your nose at the national agenda and hope that it's different here?