Scouts decommission the ‘popcorn colonel’

Gay dad fights back after Boy Scouts tell him he’s not ‘morally straight’ enough to be a leader

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

PROUD PAPA  |  Jon Langbert and his son, Carter, smile for the camera during a Cub Scout ceremony when Carter was in second grade. Langbert said he will let Carter decide whether they will continue participating in the Scouts after District 10 leaders said Langbert can’t be a leader in the troop because he is gay.
PROUD PAPA | Jon Langbert and his son, Carter, smile for the camera during a Cub Scout ceremony when Carter was in second grade. Langbert said he will let Carter decide whether they will continue participating in the Scouts after District 10 leaders said Langbert can’t be a leader in the troop because he is gay.

Jon Langbert knows that, thanks to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court back in June of 2000, the Boy Scouts of America have the right to discriminate against gays.

The real question, though, is should the Scouts discriminate, even though they have the right, Langbert said this week.

Langbert is the gay father of 9-year-old triplets, two girls and one boy. And when his children were in second grade, his son Carter brought home a flyer for the Cub Scout troop at their University Park elementary school.

“Carter asked me about it. He said he wanted to be in Cub Scouts,” Langbert said. “I was concerned about it, because I know the Scouts aren’t pro-gay, to say the least. But I took him to the meeting, and that first night I went up to the Scout leader and told him, ‘Hey, I am a gay dad, My son is in second grade, and he wants to join Cub Scouts. Will that be a problem.?’”

The man who was troop leader at the time, Langbert recalled, “told me, ‘Absolutely not. Sign him up.’ So I did. And we really had a good time. We went to all the den meetings and camp outs and pack meetings. We were a very active family in the Scouts.”

The next year, when Carter was in third grade, the pack leaders approached Langbert and asked him to be the “popcorn colonel,” the volunteer in charge of the pack’s annual popcorn sale to raise the funds to pay for the scouts’ activities. When he agreed, the pack gave him a scout leader shirt — tan, with all the usual patches — to denote his position as popcorn colonel for the pack.

So Langbert — an entrepreneur who recently sold the finance company he had founded — put all his business skills to use. That year, the pack’s popcorn sale brought in $13,000 — more than triple the previous year’s total of about $4,000.

Robert McTaggert, the troop’s new leader, knew a good when he saw it, and when Carter entered fourth grade and started a new year with the Cub Scouts, he asked Langbert to once again lead the annual fundraising effort. And Langbert readily agreed.

“He told me we had done such a great job with the fundraiser the year before, that if I would do it again, Carter wouldn’t even have to pay any dues this year,” Langbert said.

Then on Wednesday, Oct. 13, Langbert got an e-mail from McTaggert, telling him plans had been changed: Carter’s gay dad could no longer be the Cub Scout pack’s popcorn colonel.

McTaggert explained that the father of one of the other scouts in Carter’s pack had gathered up a couple more fathers and the group had complained to McTaggert and another troop leader, saying they didn’t want a gay man associated with the pack, and especially not in any kind of leadership position.

McTaggert, Langbert said, “stood up for me. He asked the guy [who initiated the complaint] if he was willing to head up the popcorn sale. The guy wouldn’t do it, of course, and [McTaggert] told him that I was still heading up the sale and to get over it.”

But the angry father wasn’t done; he took his complaint over McTaggert’s head to Roger Derrick, head of the Scouts’ local District 10 council. And Derrick sided with the unhappy father.

“He [Derrick] called Robert [McTaggert] and said I had to go, and that I couldn’t wear the popcorn colonel shirt anymore,” Langbert said. “I was very, very unhappy with that. Being told you are a second-class citizen, that you are not morally straight and not a good role model, that’s something nobody wants to hear. I may not be straight but I am morally straight, no matter what they say.”

Langbert’s neighbor, Merritt Patterson, found out about the situation and wrote about it in her column in the Park Cities People newspaper.

“It was very brave of her to do that, to risk making some people upset. I mean, this sure isn’t an issue without some heat surrounding it,” Langbert said, adding that Patterson’s column “got the ball rolling.” Before he knew it, he was getting requests for interviews for media from around Dallas — and even beyond.

By Friday, Oct. 16, Scout officials were backtracking, at least a little.

“They came back on Friday and said I could keep selling popcorn, and I could be a volunteer, ‘Just don’t stand up in front of the boys and represent yourself as a leader, as a role model.’ And it made me mad again,” Langbert said. “They are still sending the same message of exclusion. They are still robbing Carter and me of the full experience of Scouting and they are sending a message to other dads and sons that there is something wrong with me.

“Scouting is an institution, and that message they are sending will mean something to people who don’t know better,” Langbert continued. “The Scouts have a lot of wonderful things about them. But this policy is out of touch and it sends the wrong message, to my son and to a lot of other boys. It’s 2010 already. We have a black president. A lesbian is the mayor of Houston. Even the policy against gays in the military is ending. So why can’t gay people be leaders in Scouting.

“The policy has to end, and if it doesn’t they need to take Scouting to the churches and get it out of my tax-dollar-supported schools!”

Langbert said despite the insult, he will finish the popcorn sale this year because “I gave my word, and I am a man of my word.” But as to whether he and Carter will continue in Scouting beyond that — “Well, I am going to let Carter make that decision.”

“I guess maybe it seems like I am wimping out, to leave it up to Carter to decide. But he has known me as his gay father for nine years. He is comfortable with me. Still, those boys in the Scouts are his friends, his classmates,” Langbert said. “Scouting has some positive aspects and he will get value from the activities. And if I have to suck it up and go without wearing the shirt or being a ‘leader,’ then I will do that for my son.”

That doesn’t mean Langbert is letting the matter drop, though: “I will make sure they know that I am here, and that I am not going anywhere as long as Carter wants to be in the Scouts,” he declared. “I am talking out about this, and I will continue to talk out. I am not a trained speaker, but I believe strongly enough in this issue to take the chance.

“Maybe it will be enough to get the Boy Scouts to actually join us in the year 2010,” he said. “Change has got to start somewhere.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay dad can’t be Scout leader in University Park

Jon Langbert and his son, Carter (Courtesy of Jon Langbert)

Jon Langbert, a gay father of triplets who lives in University Park, has been told that he can’t serve as a leader in his 9-year-old son’s Cub Scout troop.

For the last two years, Langbert has been in charge of the popcorn sales fundraiser for Pack 70 at University Park Elementary, according to Park Cities People. In 2009, Langbert helped the troop raise $13,000, up from $4,000 the previous year. And in September of this year, Langbert and his son, Carter, were invited to recruit new scouts on the school’s morning televised announcements.

But then someone complained about Langbert’s “homosexuality.” And now he’s been told he can’t wear his Scout leader T-shirt or serve in a leadership position, according to The Dallas Morning News:

“What message does that send to my son? It says I’m a second-class citizen,” Langbert said.

Robert McTaggart, the Cubmaster for Pack 70, said Langbert will be allowed to continue as a popcorn fundraiser. That position is not considered a leadership role and can be held by a volunteer.

The Boys Scouts of America has had a long-standing policy that rejects leaders who are gay or atheist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the organization’s rules in a 5-4 decision.

“Our policy is not meant to serve as social commentary outside the Scout program,” said Pat Currie of the Circle 10 Council, the umbrella organization that oversees Pack 70. “We respect people who have a different opinion from us. We just hope those same people will respect our right to have a different opinion.”

Langbert says he plans to stay on with this year’s popcorn fundraising campaign. But he’s also contacted attorneys and plans to challenge the Cub Scouts’ decision in court. He noted that the Highland Park school district, which includes UP elementary, allows the troop to use its property despite the discriminatory policy.

Langbert and his partner were featured on 20/20 several years ago, when they lived in New York. Langbert, described as a wildly successful entrepreneur, is the father of triplets, two girls and a boy, who were conceived with donor and surrogate mothers using vitro fertilization.

UPDATE: A commenter below points us to the website for Scouting for All. Here’s their mission statement: “THE MISSION of Scouting For All, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is to advocate on behalf of its members and supporters for the restoration of the traditionally unbiased values of Scouting as expressed and embodied in the Scout Oath & the Scout Law, and to influence the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to serve and include as participating members ALL youth and adult leaders, regardless of their spiritual belief, gender, or sexual orientation.”

—  John Wright