In 1st removal since the National Council voted to allow gay Scouts, advocates expect similar stories to change adult ban in 5 years
IRVING — The Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed the organization’s firm stance on banning openly gay Scout leaders this week.
The Irving-based organization sent a letter Monday informing Geoff McGrath that it “has no choice” but to revoke his registration as Scoutmaster from his Seattle troop after he made his sexuality an issue by mentioning it during an interview with NBC News.
“Your statement is in direct violation of the BSA’s leadership qualification,” read the letter.
McGrath, 49, told The Associated Press this week that he was “stunned.”
“Our hope is that they’ll rethink their decision,” he said.
McGrath, an Eagle Scout, has been leading the Seattle troop since its formation last fall.
The pastor of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the chartering organization, asked him to lead the troop, and they submitted an application that was approved by the
Chief Seattle Council and the national headquarters. The church’s leadership has said they stand by him.
“We were transparent,” McGrath said. “If they didn’t want us to be a troop, they shouldn’t have accepted our application. To hear claims that this is surprising to them is confusing. We’ve been transparent from day one.”
The Boy Scouts’ National Council voted last year to allow gay members, but the ban on gay leaders remained. Opinions from LGBT advocates and religious leaders fueled a heated debate around the change. Many members broke off into other organizations when the policy change went into effect Jan. 1.
McGrath worried about being rejected from the Scouts when he came out to his family and friends in 1988 at age 23. He eventually lost connection with the organization but become more engaged when his brother, Dave McGrath and his son, also Eagle Scouts, biked 1,800 miles last year from Idaho to Grapevine, where the vote on the change
BSA spokesman Deron Smith said this week the exclusion of gay adults would continue despite the welcoming of gay youth.
“The Boy Scouts of America does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of our members,” Smith said in a statement. “We don’t believe the topic of sexual orientation has a role in Scouting, and it is not discussed unless it is deliberately injected into Scouting.”
The BSA’s ban on gay Scouts and leaders began in 1991 when the organization determined open homosexuals went against the part of the Scout Oath that mandates members be “morally straight.”
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in a 2000 case when justices ruled that the private organization could choose its membership.
While gay leaders have been removed for being gay — like Ohio den mother Jennifer Tyrrell whose petition to reinstate her led two board members to push for the change in 2012 — many still continued to serve with the approval of their local troop.
Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality and who has two moms, said he remembers back when Tyrrell and other out leaders who’d been removed from BSA positions delivered petitions to the Irving headquarters in the summer of 2012. The organization released the results of a two-year study affirming the gay ban days before Tyrrell’s visit.
But the vote followed in May 2013.
“Obviously we’ve heard this ‘We’re never going to change’ line before,” Wahls said, recalling the study. “And then literally not even six months later, they were announcing this vote on the policy.”
He said the news of McGrath, who is believed to be the first out leader removed since the gay youth ban was lifted, is sad, but his and more stories will help the BSA eventually become completely inclusive.
“We’re disappointed that they’ve chosen to revoke Geoff McGrath’s membership, especially because he was growing Scouting,” he said. “But we remain optimistic about the long-term future of the discriminatory policy.
“In terms of when we’re going to see an actual change in policy, my sense is that should be within five years,” Wahls added. “I don’t think that should surprise anybody. I think that there’s still a lot of work to do, and we’re going to need stories about people like Geoff McGrath, about people who have grown Scouting.”
Another story, that of gay Scout Pascal Tessier, helped sway the public last year when he revealed that his Maryland troop wouldn’t give him his Eagle Scout award if the council voted down the change.
Tessier became the first openly gay Scout to receive the rank in February. But he’ll turn 18 in August and will then be barred from the organization.
“And then the Boy Scouts are going to be telling this young man that he can’t participate in an organization that made him the man he is,” Wahls said. “I think the more stories we hear, the faster we’ll see the policy change.”
Tessier has started an online Change.org petitioning Amazon to pull its BSA funding. Before the vote last year, companies like UPS, Caterpillar Inc. and Merck cut funds to the organization. Since the vote, Lockheed Martin cut ties with Scouting.
The Amazon petition, “Suspend your support of the Boy Scouts until they end their ban on gay adults,” had more than 24,000 signatures as of press time.
To view the Amazon petition, visit TinyURL.com/BSAamazon.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 4, 2014.