Scout holds BSA to its own core values
- Published: April 2, 2015
After taking 80-mile bike trips and camping in 14-degree-below-zero weather, local Eagle Scout Lake Miller is turning to his next activity with the Boy Scouts — ending discrimination in the nationwide youth organization.
This week Miller launched a local chapter of Scouts for Equality, a national group pressuring the Boy Scouts to allow gay scout leaders, among other policy changes. Currently, all scout leaders must be heterosexual, while gay scouts were first admitted in 2013.
The 16-year-old Yellow Springs High School student said this week he is using the skills and values he learned as a Boy Scout to push the Boy Scouts of America to be more accepting of LGBT adults and youth.
“The message I learned from Boy Scouts is to treat everyone you meet with respect,” Miller said. “Boy Scouts also taught me to look at problems and solve them for myself.”
The local Scouts for Equality will serve a five-county area as the official Scouts for Equality of the Tecumseh Council. Miller envisions the group as a coalition of youth and adults, scouts and non-scouts, who will work to petition the Tecumseh Council in Springfield to pass an anti-discrimination policy and take part in national efforts to push for change at the Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in Irving, Texas.
Miller is gathering letters of support from local organizations and individuals while all villagers are invited to join the group, which meets on the third Monday of the month. The group’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 20, in the preschool room of the First Presbyterian Church. Letters of support can be sent to Miller at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2013, Scouts for Equality successfully campaigned the Boys Scouts of America to remove a restriction denying membership to “known or avowed” gay scouts. However, the Boys Scouts kept its ban on gay scout leaders. While Boys Scouts of America was founded in 1910, its policy on the participation of gay youth and adults was only established in 1991.
To local Cub Scout Pack 578 troop leader Chris Wyatt, who is the official troop leader of Scouts for Equality, the Boy Scout policy is simply unfair and must be changed.
“It’s unfair because these people [who are not accepted] have things to offer our children — they have talents and skills to teach them,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt, who participated in British scouting as a youth growing up in England, was shocked to learn when he came to the U.S. that the Boy Scouts of America wasn’t accepting of all people. He said he doesn’t blame local parents who won’t allow their children to join the scouts because of its discriminatory policy, but hopes the existence of this new group will encourage them to reconsider and help change the organization from the inside.
Miller said he hopes to change the Boy Scouts from within because the organization means so much to him.
“I love Boy Scouts,” Miller said. “We are actively trying to bring people to scouts — we’re not trying to shut scouting down.”
But while Miller hopes a more accepting policy increases membership in the Boy Scouts, which boasted 2.7 million youth and more than 1 million adult volunteers in 2011, in reality, many members are fleeing. According to Miller, the Boy Scouts stand to lose around 200,000 members if they change their policy, likely due to churches, which charter most local troops, rescinding their support for them. And competing organizations like Trail Life USA are springing up in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s 2013 policy change.
“They might not gain as much as they are losing, but those people [who don’t approve of the change] aren’t living up to scouting standards,” Miller added.
Locally, the First Presbyterian Church has chartered the local Boy Scout Troup 78 for more than 75 years. It is also the charter for the local Scouts for Equality, which the Reverend Aaron Saari said he approved because it aligned with the church’s stance for equality as the only “More Light” church in the Miami Valley Presbytery.
“Where we stand is that all persons are created in God’s image and as followers of Christ, when we look upon gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, we see God,” Saari said. The local church’s support for equality was affirmed last week when the Presbyterian Church USA redefined marriage in the church constitution last week as “between two people” rather than between a man and a woman, Saari said.
Once gay scout leaders are allowed and steps are taken to improve acceptance in scouting culture, Scouts for Equality will urge the national office to change its policy to accept atheists and agnostics, who are currently not allowed to join as troop leaders or scouts, Miller added.
Local Eagle Scout Chris Hutson is another villager standing up in support of Scouts for Equality. Hutson, who received his Eagle in 1998, nearly mailed his award back when the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their policy ban against gay scouts and scout leaders in 2012.
“I was very distraught when they came out publicly with this,” Hutson said. “For a group teaching morals and respect and doing what’s for the greater good, it’s hypocritical. It’s not okay to instill in young minds the opinion that it’s not okay to be gay.”
Scouts for Equality was formed in 2012 after a gay Cub Scout leader in Belmont County, Ohio was removed from her position because of her sexual orientation. That led to the Boy Scouts affirming their longstanding policy later that year. After public pressure, they put the issue to the vote of a 1,400-member National Council in 2013, which voted 61 percent in favor of ending the ban on gay youth. Earlier, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the Boy Scouts are exempt from state laws barring anti-gay discrimination. In contrast, the Girl Scouts of America has had a diversity policy and nondiscrimination clause since 1980.
Nationally, many major organizations and individuals have come out in support of Scouts for Equality, including President Barack Obama and four branches of the U.S. Military, whose own recently-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy closely resembled the Boy Scout Policy. The American Medical Association has even voted to urge the Boy Scouts to reconsider its policy, citing the psychological trauma it could cause youth. Miller said it can be particularly painful for gay scouts who are currently barred from volunteering as scout leaders once they turn 18.
Scouting is strong in Yellow Springs, added Miller. Boy Scout Troop 78, for those aged 11 to 17, has 15 active members, while the Cub Scout Pack 578, for seven- to 10-year olds, has 22 members.