OK to be Gay in Alameda Boy Scouts?

What would happen if the young, gay scout, whose Eagle Award project was rejected recently by a troop leader in Moraga, were an Alameda scout?


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?

Mark Irons October 10, 2012 at 06:36 PM
A friend here in town who acquired his Eagle badge, and is now in his forties, related an anecdote from his youth where a kid, who he described as a "wise a- -", stood up at his Eagle review and announced he didn't believe in God. A couple old timers on review committee were apparently rattled but because everybody knew this kid, he ultimately got his Eagle. In fully reviewing the Lamorinda Patch article and comments, which was exhausting, some folks are claiming that Ryan declared himself an atheist and that may be the reason he was denied, while his mom posted that he stated he is agnostic, which is comparable to Thomas Jefferson and majority of founding fathers being deist. Here is an interesting Jefferson quote: "Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." - letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787
Ann W. October 10, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Yes, Charles you are correct. However, Alameda has one of the smallest Council offices in the country and actually is a big expense to maintain from the BSA's perspective. They would actually like to see the Alameda Council be swallowed up into the San Francisco Council and this city's Council office has been "hanging on" lieterally because of the many benefits of having a separate smaller more intimate Council that provides a lot of services that harder to get when you are in a huge Council. I believe that is the same case with the Piedmont Council. Council offices are afraid of having their charter revoked because BSA helps fund them, ALTHOUGH it would be an interesting thought if they defected from the BSA organization that it might be possible to solicit funding from the numerous corporations that have pulled donations from BSA because of their anti-gay policies. Corporations like the United Way and Intel are two biggies to name a few.... For those Troops/Packs whose viewpoints concur with the BSA's discrimination rhetoric they could go under the S.F. Council. Radical idea... but perhaps a possibility for the many of us who DO NOT BELIEVE IN DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND!
Marvin H October 10, 2012 at 08:26 PM
The Boy Scouts are for all intents and purposes a Christian youth group now. It was not always like this. I was a Scout in the late 60s and our troop was not sponsored by a church and I don't remember there being any religious overtones other than the "duty to god" part of the oath. Today with churches being key supporters of Scouting by hosting troops they have a great deal of say in how the organization is run, and they are not afraid to flex their muscle. If the BSA is not towing the line the churches want then a simple threat to pull the church support is enough to bring BSA back in line. What does that mean today? No out gay involvement in Scouting. No youth who do not at least provide lip service to believing in god, and in some troops not being a practicing Christian will keep you out. It also seems to mean that BSA has developed its own system for handling child abusers, something very reminiscent of large churches and just as effective based on recent news stories. Local troops have no control over this policy and following it is not voluntary. If a troop gets ideas about not complying BSA quickly brings them back in line. That's why if contacted the troops will either say they follow the BSA line or they will not say anything. They walk a fine line between following BSA but trying not the alienate parents who don't approve. Based on all this I do not support BSA or Scouting. It is sad because it was a great program before it was hijacked.
Ann W. October 10, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Marvin, I understand your sentiments completely...however, it is not 100% true in that there are many Packs and Troops out there that do not exclude. If you do not believe in discrimination you have to check these groups out individually as they are all different. I can only suggest be up front and ask!!! When we entered scouting 9 years ago it was ONLY because we found a Pack that embraced everyone. focusing on having fun. We became leaders as I mentioned in an earlier statement and touted inclusion. There are Troops out there that do not discriminate but again you really have to get a sense of the leadership and be up front and ask. Not all Troops are sponsored by churches..ours is not.
Henry O. October 10, 2012 at 09:39 PM
How sad. Alameda parents are up in arms because a gay teen in Moraga can't be an Eagle Scout. But when a school board member who TWICE voted down anti-bullying programs because they included lessons about gay families runs for re-election here, no one says a peep. In fact, the teacher and the firefighter unions endorse her. People warned me of a core of bigotry in this town when I moved here 8 years ago, but I didn't believe them. Now I understand. I'm glad readers here (most of them anyways) are speaking up in defense of the Moraga scout. I wish they'd speak up in support of the kids in their own town, too.
Soccer Dad October 10, 2012 at 09:45 PM
No reason to be mysterious, Henry. Please name names. Who is this mystery board member. Kind of hard to hold her accountable if we don't know her name.
Henry O. October 10, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Apologies, Soccer Dad. That would be Trish Spencer.
Ann W. October 10, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Henry, sadly there is bigotry in every town and trust me Alameda has changed quite a bit from the provincial town it was when I moved here 28 years ago. The one thing that is different with the election is that each individual can make their voice be heard by exercising their right to vote. Doesn't necessarily mean in the end the result will go your way. I certainly won't vote for someone who doesn't support an anti-bullying program! In the case of Ryan Andresen of Moraga, this was an injustice of huge magnitude. This young man completed the incredibly arduous journey it takes to make Eagle Rank and apparently despite coming out two years ago and according to this scout revealed the leadership indicated "we'll get past this thing," in the very last moment the week before his 18th birthday (the final deadline by BSA rules) his scoutmaster said to him "I'd rather resign than sign." To me if these facts are indeed correct, this scoutmaster appears to be somewhat sadistic if not at the very least incredibly cruel to a "child" no less to string him along and then do that to him. As our courageous scoutmaster said this was the ultimate betrayal. I would never want my son anywhere near a Boy Scout Leader like that. So sadly there is a big difference.
Soccer Dad October 11, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Thanks Henry. I will keep that in mind if she runs again.
Ann W. October 11, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Soccer Dad... FYI...Trish Spencer is on the current ballot for this election for Alameda School Board.
Rev. Laura Rose October 11, 2012 at 03:28 AM
This is from Rev. Laura Rose, pastor of First Congregational Church Alameda Hi I agree that some churches are doing just as you say but there are also churches that are affirmative of lgbt people and have refused to sponsor a troop because of the bsa's discrimination. As a pastor of a progressive church here in alameda, I would love to see an alternative group that combines the best og BSA principles with an inclusive stance for lgbt youth and leaders. We would be an active supporter of this type of group at First Congregational Alameda, United Church of Christ www,fccalameda.org
Heather Jarecki October 11, 2012 at 04:31 AM
"Some people think they should have the right to weigh in on all matter of things that have absolutely nothing to do with themselves" Oh, I see. Kinda like what you're doing. Got it.
Marvin H October 11, 2012 at 05:08 PM
It's true that I painted churches with a wide brush. Based on the news I have read in the past the Mormon church (a huge sponsor, see: ldsbsa.org) is the one most responsible for the current state of discrimination in BSA although I'm sure other churches are as involved. While there are some churches that are more inclusive, as I'm sure your is, most are not.
Marvin H October 11, 2012 at 05:23 PM
While I am sure that there are some troops that are choosing to look the other way and have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about gay youth, but they are having to do it under the table. If BSA finds out a troop is outwardly flouting the ban they will act. The dishonesty involved in having to do it this way is not good for any of the youth in the troop. Are we teaching that gay youth need to keep in the closet to get by in the world? As the author found out when contacting the Alameda Scout Council, they will not go on the record as not enforcing the ban on gay youth. That means if they are allowing gay youth in the program then they are only doing it as long as everyone who knows a particular youth is gay can keep a secret. To me that's just not right. People also need to remember that anything being said about discrimination based on sexual orientation also goes for BSA discrimination based on religion.
Marvin H October 11, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I know this subject has a lot of parents puling their hair out over the decision of letting their sons join. But while scouting has a lot to offer it is purely voluntary to be involved. So to me, if you join or donate you are supporting the discrimination and in a way endorsing it by allowing it to continue. If people refused to join, existing members quit, and people stopped providing funding then the BSA would be forced to change or go out of existence. If people keep joining, and paying to support the organization, then there is little reason for BSA to change. I really think this is the bottom line and I know it will be unpopular.
Kim Rankin October 11, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Rev. Rose, I would be HIGHLY interested in starting an inclusive alternative to the Scouts. I would be happy to put organizational energy into getting Campfire started at First Congregational. Please let me know how I can help.
Kim Rankin October 11, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Someone above mentioned Scouting for All; I wanted to add that there is also Scouts for Equality (www.scoutsforequality.com).
Soccer Dad October 12, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Saw her campaign sign today. "Kids First," is what it said. Unless you happen to be gay, or be a member of a family with a gay parent or sibling, or just a member of the community that cares about fairness and ethics. Yeah, not my kids, lady. She won't be getting my vote.
Ann W. October 12, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Marvin, I truly understand your sentiments. The "original" messages within scouting are wonderful and if you look closely at applications or materials for Scouting no where does it say anything about "exclusion." Unfortunately a religious right anti gay message insidiously infiltrated the organization within the United States. Ask any scout parent/family who is anti-discrimination if they entered the scouting program with much thought and confilct and most all will say a resounding "yes." BSA discrimination does not represent ALL scouts and scout families by any means. There is much that is really good about the scouting program. Despite the horrible impact on this young man Ryan Andresen from Moraga on behalf of BSA's actions, he still acknowledged on the Ellen show today the wonderful experiences he had as a scout...wow what maturity. This road towards hopeful change of BSA's unwritten policy will not happen if families like mine abandon ship...yes, it is not easy but even our scoutmaster instilled a sense of hope that he too believes that one day this will change...it might not be in our lifetime, but it WILL change. As unpopular as it is, we will do our best to facilitate from within. I realize as well this too may be an unpopular stance.
islandqueer October 12, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I'm looking back at the other "news" articles on this site and see that there is little discussion when it comes to other topics, but mention the word gay and people get all a twitter. Solution solver or problem creator Eve? Tell me you are not this ignorant about inflaming this community. I have spent so many years listening to people try and explain away there levels of "tolerance". The desperation of holding onto that which was lost in the BSA years ago has come to pass. There is no changing this organization from within. When queer people stand up to you and tell you, like I am right now, that this is hurtful, discriminatory, manipulative, vial, hateful. and damages us, you hammer back about time and change from within. Leave the BSA, please. if there is an ounce of compassion in your soul you will understand how important it is to take that in a new direction and prove your morality claim.
Eve Pearlman October 12, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Hi IslandQ. I hadn't responded before, because I was having trouble getting my mind around your points. I still am struggling to understand, but I think, if I am following correctly, that you are saying that BSA is not going to change its policies and so we should just stop talking about it. I disagree: laws change, policies change, beliefs change. And thinking, talking, reading are some of the key agents of change. -Eve
Rev. Laura Rose October 12, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Kim, thanks for voicing your interest in starting an alternative to Cub and Boy Scouts in Alameda. I have gotten a few others say they are interested as well. Let's connect offline by email. Can you email me at revlaura@fccalameda with your email and phone. From what I can find so far, there is a Campfire Council in Vallejo but there is also a listing for Alameda on Harbor Bay. The latter is likely an old listing. Please let me know you got this.
Soccer Dad October 12, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Eve, you aren't doing anything wrong and you are doing a lot right. Keep it up.
Soccer Dad October 12, 2012 at 05:05 PM
We would be interested.
Henry O. October 12, 2012 at 09:22 PM
It gets worse, Soccer Dad. First Trish Spencer voted "no" on the anti-gay bullying curriculum (that was called "Lesson 9"). Then she voted "no" on a broader anti-bullying program that covered kids in gay families, plus disabled kids, kids of different ethnicities, religions, etc, even though she had said that's what the district needed instead. So two "no" votes...real "kids first." BUT she has the gall to claim that she "definitely supports" anti-bullying programs in her candidate statement. Quite the etch-a-sketch candidate. Neil Tam and Ron Mooney, who also are running this fall, voted "yes" on both programs, however.
Ann W. October 13, 2012 at 12:57 AM
I second that!!! You've done a great job with your provocative question getting people to think and have a dialogue.
Alameda Mom October 14, 2012 at 07:08 PM
By boycotting Boy Scouts, I am leaving millions (if not billions) of resources including property and curriculum for the bigots. They can't have it. My son is going to come and benefit from the curriculum and resources and we will have regular conversations at home about how this policy is wrong and our family doesn't agree with it. It may come to a head one day. Who knows? My son may be gay or one of his friends. If that happens we will make that descion when we come to it.I'd rather lean into the discomfort. They will have to publically kick us out like the boy in Moraga. The more people who are willing to do that the more likely the organization is to change. I think the National Council purposely has the policy to get rid of people like my family and keep it for themselves. Scouting was traditionally for bringing people with different background together and build skills for competence. I feel like I'm holding scouting to that standard.
bette page October 18, 2012 at 03:22 PM
LOS ANGELES — The thousands of men expelled from the Boy Scouts of America between 1970 and 1991 on suspicion of molesting children came from all walks of life — teachers and plumbers, doctors and bus drivers, politicians and policemen. They ranged in age from teens to senior citizens and came from troops in every state, according to a trove of dossiers due for public release Thursday. While 1,900 previously confidential files suggest no single predator profile, scrutiny of the files reveals a pattern: Many suspected molesters engaged in what psychologists today call “grooming behavior,” a gradual seduction in which predators lavish children with attention, favors and gifts. In hundreds of cases, Scout leaders allowed the boys to drive cars, drink alcohol or look at pornography. They gradually tested physical boundaries during skinny dipping, group showers, sleepovers and one-on-one activities. Hundreds of files from the 1960s to the 1980s are set to be released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, giving the public its first broad view of the documents. The dossiers viewed in advance by the Los Angeles Times include biographical data, legal records, Scouting correspondence, boys’ accounts of alleged abuse and media reports and represent all the surviving files kept by the Scouts as of January 2005. The Scouts have destroyed an unknown number of files over the years.
Rev. Laura Rose October 18, 2012 at 09:07 PM
There is a conversation beginning about starting an inclusive Cub and Older boy Scouting Group. I have been doing some research and there is an inclusive scouting group that began in England and now has troops here in the U.S. There is no troop in our area but there are a few in CA. Check out the web site: at http://bpsa-us.org/ We are also looking into Campfire Boys and Girls. If you have interest in being part of this discussion about starting an alternative scouting program that is inclusive, please email me at revlaura@fccalameda.org
Rev. Laura Rose October 18, 2012 at 09:09 PM
The name of the organization is the Baden-Powell Service Organization http://bpsa-us.org/


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