UNWELCOME AT THE CAMPFIRE
Gays, still Boy Scout pariahs, turn up the heat for change
12 November, 1991.
by Jane Meredith Adams
San Francisco -- For 81 years, the Boy Scouts of America has pledged to shape American boys into men. Now the organization that says "once a scout, always a scout" is being forced to confront a definition
of manhood it finds challenging: gay men who speak proudly of their scouting days and argue that being homosexual is not incompatible with being an exemplary scout.
In fact, the gay former scouts say, their days spent in olive uniforms,
building campfires and doing good deeds have helped many gay boys become leaders.
"Scouting has done a great job for gay people," said William Boyce Mueller, a gay San Francisco man who is a former Cub Scout and the grandson of the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, William
Dickson Boyce. "It has turned them into good role models and taught them values." In a growing number of challenges here and elsewhere in the nation, the Boy Scout organization is being pressured to stop anti-homosexual teachings.
The challenges have included a national letter-writing campaign from gay former scouts; the formation of a group calling itself "Queer
Scouts" to apply for scoutmaster positions at the Boy Scout office in San Francisco; the cancellation of scouting contracts with school districts in San Francisco and San Jose because of the Boy Scouts' policy of discrimination and the review of Boy Scout funding by United Way chapters in San Francisco and Chicago, which oppose the Scouts' discrimination.
"The Boy Scouts are doing a great deal of damage to heterosexual
scouts by telling them homosexuals are not all right," said Dinio Piacentini, 24, a gay former Boy Scout. "That kind of thinking encourages gay-bashing."
The controversy between the United Way and the Boy Scouts, two integral American institutions, has been particularly charged here this fall, as United Way begins its annual fund drive.
Last summer the San Francisco co chapter of the United Way canceled $9,000 in funding to the Boy Scouts because of its refusal to allow homosexuals to participate in scouting activities. A task force is currently meeting twice a month with Boy Scout officials and gay leaders to try to work out a solution. At stake is $1.2 million in United Way funding to are scouting councils.
The Boy Scouts have said they will not compromise on the issue of homosexuality. The organization says that the pledge each scout makes "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight" is a pledge that supports heterosexuality.
"Morally straight to us is a traditional, heterosexual, family-oriented
relationship," said Blake Lewis, nation spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, in Irving, Texas. "We don't believe homosexuality offers values consistent with these values."
The Boy Scouts were handed a legal victory in May, when a judge in Los Angeles ruled that the organization had the right to refuse to
allow a gay teen-ager to become an assistant scoutmaster.
In San Francisco, a group of gay former scouts called Forgotten Scouts formed this fall to counter the Boy Scouts' belief that gay men are somehow at odds with family values.
"For the Scouts to try to determine what the American family is is out
of line," said Ken McPerson, a founder of Forgotten Scouts, whose 26 founding members include journalist Randy Shilts and author Armistead Maupin.
"They always try to separate us from the rest of society... We've always been an important part of scouting."