2 troop leaders from Dallas suggest they’d welcome gays if organization lifts national ban, but many others likely would continue to discriminate
IRVING — Jon Langbert and his son Carter left the Boy Scouts in 2010 because of the organization’s ban on gays.
But now that the Scouts may remove the ban on gay Scouts and leaders and leave the decision up to local troops, Langbert said his son has a renewed interest in Scouting.
Langbert was asked to step down as popcorn colonel for his son’s University Park Cub Scout troop because he’s gay. He said his son wanted to leave the Scouts because Langbert couldn’t be more involved. His son now attends St. Mark’s School in Dallas and has expressed interest in joining that school’s chartered troop if the policy changes and if the troop will welcome his dad.
“That would be great,” Langbert said. “We enjoyed it before.”
However, Langbert said the proposed change to allow local troops to decide whether to admit gays has its shortcomings because discrimination will still occur and could still prevent him from being a leader again. Langbert said he would’ve liked the national organization to propose changing the policy to be inclusive instead of placing the decision with local troops.
“I don’t know that [the BSA] have thought this through,” he said. “Now instead of having a national office set the policy, each troop will have their own debate. …I’m not sure all the volunteers are up for it.”
The organization’s National Executive Board could decide at its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 6, to remove the gay ban and place the decision on accepting gays with local troops.
“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents,” spokesman Deron Smith said. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”
LGBT advocates praised the discussion about changing the policy this week, while noting that even if the policy no longer mandates discrimination, it still grants troops the choice to exclude gay Scouts and leaders.
Marlin Earl Bynum, a local gay schoolteacher who’s been active in protesting the Boy Scouts ban on gays, said the change would be “a move forward, but it’s not far enough.”
Bynum said he would like to see the national board prohibit discrimination at all levels because placing the decision with troops would continue to cause harm at a local level.
“As long as there’s discrimination, it tells gay men that they’re still second class,” Bynum said.
The discussion to change the policy comes months after BSA reaffirmed the ban following a two-year study. In July, Smith told Dallas Voice that the organization “has no plans to change its membership policy.”
When asked about the decision to consider changing the policy in light of the study last year, Smith said the “decision to discuss the policy is a result of a longstanding dialogue within the Scouting family.”
“Last year Scouting realized the policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations which oversee and deliver the program, to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs,” Smith said. “It’s important to note this policy would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”
The study findings were released a day before ousted Ohio Den Mother Jennifer Tyrrell visited the Irving headquarters to deliver a petition with more than 330,000 signatures requesting the ban be ended. Tyrrell was removed from her position with her son’s Cub Scout troop in April because she’s a lesbian.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation teamed up with Tyrrell to protest the ban. And Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, who founded Scouts for Equality and was raised by two moms, also joined the fight. Wahls began targeting major donors to the Boy Scouts last year, resulting in UPS, Intel and Merck pulling their funding because of the discriminatory policy. More companies have reportedly threatened to pull their funding if the policy isn’t changed.
Both GLAAD and Wahls praised the Boy Scouts for their discussion on inclusion and urged them to remove the ban.
“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from Scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay Scouts and Scout leaders is wrong,” GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said. “Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect.”
Wahls called the move “an incredible step forward in the right direction.”
“We look forward to working with BSA Councils and chartering organizations across the country to end the exclusion of our gay brothers in Scouting, as well as the gay and lesbian leaders who serve the organizations so well,” he said.
The Human Rights Campaign originally praised the proposed policy change, but announced Thursday that the BSA needed a national nondiscrimination policy.
“While it is good news that the onerous national ban will come to an end, it’s not acceptable to abdicate nondiscrimination standards to local units,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “It’s akin to a national restaurant chain saying that it will not discriminate at its corporate headquarters, but allow local restaurants to discriminate at will.
HRC also announced that it would penalize companies who donated to BSA on its annual Corporate Equality Index, even if the policy change is approved by the board.
With 69 percent of the nation’s troops charted by religious groups — largely by Mormons, Catholics and Southern Baptists — it’s unclear how many troops would adopt inclusive policies.
Pat Currie, Scout executive at the Dallas-based Circle Ten Council, said the number of the council’s roughly 1,350 troops that are chartered by faith-based organizations is close to the national number, ranging from about 60 to 65 percent. The council spans 12 counties and has more than 54,000 members and 16,000 adult volunteers, he said.
Currie declined to give his opinion on the policy change because it hasn’t been made official yet.
“This is an ongoing national discussion and right now there’s been no decision. Until there’s been a decision, I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to comment,” Currie said.
However, he said that in the three years he’s been with the council, there hasn’t been any troop opposition to the national ban.
“Sexual orientation has no place in scouting, period,” Currie said. “That’s a discussion that’s appropriate for parents and spiritual leaders.”
But two local troops have already pledged to welcome gay scouts and leaders if the policy is changed.
Sam Noble, assistant Scout Master for the troop affiliated with Dallas’ Temple Emanu-El’s Brotherhood, said a disclaimer for the troop is always posted below Boy Scouts communications because the Reform Jewish synagogue doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation. As a troop charted by them, Noble said the affiliation mandates that they also not discriminate despite the national policy.
“For us, this is a very good move to national,” Noble said. “This will help our troop.”
Nobel said that while the troop’s accepting policy hasn’t received any backlash from national, he hopes that the change is approved by the board so the troop can be more vocal about its inclusive policy.
Ben Burns, Scout Master for a special needs troop chartered by Dallas’ Notre Dame School, said the troop has a gay father who’s already involved with the troop but the current ban on gay leaders prevents him from being more involved.
“If this passes, we’ll probably make him a leader. He just can’t be an official leader right now,” Burns said. “As for gay members, if there was a gay special needs member, I would let him in. I wouldn’t discriminate against him.”
He said the change would help welcome even more Scouts into the organization and be more inclusive of all families whose members would like to participate.
“I think anytime you include anybody it’s a positive thing,” Burns said.
Although the troop leader would be able to decide who is allowed, Burns said the chartered organization would overrule the decision if its leadership agreed with the ban. He said he didn’t expect a negative response from the Notre Dame School because they welcome everyone.
“If they don’t like the leader, they can get rid of him,” he said of charter organizations. “They control the leaders.”
Cathedral of Hope would consider chartering a troop if the ban is reversed. The Rev. Dawson Taylor, executive minister at CoH and an Eagle Scout, said many in the overwhelmingly LGBT congregation know the value of Scouting and have been proponents of the discrimination ending. He said the church would discuss chartering a troop in order to open it up to the inclusion of everyone.
“We would not only celebrate that [end], but encourage participation,” he said.
Scouts seek input on changes
BSA is seeking the public’s input on the policy change. To voice an opinion, call the National Service Desk at 972-580-2330 or email [email protected].
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 1, 2013.