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Scouts Canada on Gays

"Scouting is a world wide, multi cultural movement. We welcome people to membership regardless of gender, race, culture, religious belief, sexual orientation or economic circumstances. Youth members are strongly influenced by the behaviour of adults. We need to be sensitive to the traditions and beliefs of all people and to avoid words or actions which "put down" anybody." From Scouts Canada. Duty of Care, February 2001, CODE OF CONDUCT FOR ADULTS

     As can be seen by the above quote, Scouts Canada does not have any problems with the sexual orientation of its members - youth or adults. At the present time, this is as much information we can obtain about the implementation of the Scouts Canada nondiscrimination policy.

      It should be noted that the 129th Toronto Scouting Group ceased operations within a few years. Reasons are varied, but to many, the Group was formed to test Scouts Canada's commitment to its non-discrimination policy, rather than as a true scouting unit.

     However, if one thought that this was only a policy on paper and not tested, one would be wrong! In 1999 a church contacted Scouts Canada to sponsor a Scout Group composed of gay youth in Toronto. Thus, the 129th Toronto Scouting Group was formed. The first all-gay Scout unit in Canada. Below are some news articles about the Scout Group.
     National Public Radio broadcasted a story on the Scout Group in November 1999. You can hear it on-line.

Canada now has gay Scouts. From left are Jeff Peters, Sara Evans, Bonte Minneara, Christopher Paulin, Susan Maybe and Elaine Evans.
TORONTO, Nov. 15, 1999 - "In the United States, it is an issue that has roiled the national Boy Scout convention, divided arches and led to numerous lawsuits, including one now before the Supreme Court: Should homosexuals be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts?" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"But in Canada, the prospect that the gay scout troop will soon hold its first meeting here in Toronto has barely raised eyebrow" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"'In Canada, we are secure enough in our own identities and lifestyles that we don't have to try to impose them on others,' Amelia Golden, a lawyer with the League Human Rights of B'nai B'rith of Canada, told the small gathering as an early snow began to fall" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"The 129th Toronto Scouting Group is the brainchild of Bonte Minnema, a gay University of Toronto senior who was a scout until he was 14, earning the rank of Chief Scout, the equivalent of the American Eagle Scout. He persuaded the Christos Metropolitan Community Church, one of Toronto's two gay churches, to sponsor the troop and its pastor, Rev. Susan Mabey, to serve as the troop leader" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"And not only will this Boy Scout troop be gay; it looks to be half female, as well, under the coeducational policy adopted by Scouts Canada in 1998. According to Minnema, of the 12 people who have signed up for the troop, seven are lesbians. Many are also students at local universities or at a program for gay students run by an alternative high school in downtown Toronto. All are between the ages of 18 and 26, and are in a category of scouting that does not have a counterpart in the United States" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"Minnema said he expects his troop will do all the things other troops do -- go camping, attend scouting jamborees, perform community service projects. The point of a gay troop, he said, is that it helps challenge the traditional stereotypes about gays and provides another support group at a particularly vulnerable time, when many are first acknowledging their sexual orientation" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"In Ottawa, Scouts Canada headquarters reported receiving only about a dozen calls about the new troop. Spokesman Andy McLaughlin said the organization would welcome other applications, including for troops for youths from 14 to 17" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"Here in Canada, experts said the easy acceptance of gay scouting reflects several factors, including the smaller role religion plays in politics and daily life and the smaller size and influence of fundamentalist religions. For the same reason, issues like abortion or school prayer have never become cutting issues in Canadian politics" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"But others noted that while Canada may be a more tolerant country, it is not necessarily more accepting" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

"Neil Nevitte, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said public opinion polls show that Canadians and Americans have similar levels of discomfort and disapproval about homosexuality. The difference, he said, is that while Americans act on those impulses publicly, and try to impose their beliefs on others, Canadians are more private about their views and inclined to take a live-and-let-live attitude" (Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, November 16, 1999).

Canadian Scouts Give Blessing to First Gay Troop
November 20, 1999

TORONTO -- The directors of Scouts Canada were a bit puzzled by the application to charter Toronto's 129th Scout troop: In the boxes declaring "male" or "female," some members had checked both.

But true to their motto, the Scouts were prepared for anything. Late last month, they officially approved North America's first gay Scout troop.

"To us, it's just like another one of our troops that addresses the needs of a community," said Scott Morris, a spokesman for Scouts Canada. "We have a Cantonese troop on the West Coast, French-speaking troops in Quebec and special troops for Mormons."

The new troop is limited to members ages 18 to 26; unlike the United States, Canada has adult-only troops, called Rovers. Troop 129 is open to gays and heterosexuals, and 12 people have signed on so far. All have identified themselves as gay or transgender. Thanks to a coeducational policy introduced by Scouts Canada last year, seven members are women.

They'll do traditional scouting activities, with special attention to serving the gay and lesbian community: camping, service projects and Christmas caroling at a local AIDS hospice.

"People keep asking me, 'Why?' " said Bonte Minnema, a gay University of Toronto senior and boyhood Scout who founded the new troop. "My answer is, 'Why not?' No one asks why straight people get together. When young people are coming out, it's important for them to have empowering, skill-building groups like the Scouts."

Minnema said he has received calls from teens asking if he can start a troop for 14- to 17-year-olds who are gay or questioning their sexual orientation, as well as from gay and lesbian parents seeking a tolerant environment for their children. Morris said Scouts Canada would consider such an application.

The reaction in Canada so far to the gay troop has been "positive to neutral," Morris said. "People got much more angry about girls joining the Scouts than about gays and lesbians."

Some groups split off in protest of the coed policy but not so far in reaction to the formation of the new Toronto troop. Canada is, after all, a country where the feeling is more "live and let live" than "don't ask, don't tell." There are gays serving openly in the military, equal benefits in most provinces for same-sex partners, gay churches and an alternative gay high school here. And Canada has no policy excluding gay Scout leaders.

That's a big difference from the United States, where the Scout Oath says all Boy Scouts should do their "duty to God" and be "morally straight" -- elements that national Scout officials argue are incompatible with homosexuality.

But the Scout Law also says a good Scout "seeks to understand others" and "respects those with ideas and customs other than his own." And so, the issue of homosexuals in the Boy Scouts of America has split the organization, divided its sponsoring churches and resulted in lawsuits. One case, in which the organization is appealing a New Jersey court decision that gay men can't be banned from being Scout leaders, is before the US Supreme Court.

Although all Scout troops fall under an umbrella of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, there is no direct affiliation between the Canadian and US groups. But for Toronto's Troop 129, the only complaints have come from south of the border: A radical preacher from Kansas, the Rev. Fred Phelps, threatened to burn the Canadian flag in protest in front of the Scouts Canada headquarters here last Monday. The Scouts called Canadian immigration officials to see if he could be banned from crossing the border under this country's hate crimes law. Phelps never showed up.

That's not to say there's no homophobia in Canada, Minnema says. "But Canada is a much more subtle country," he said.

Minnema was a Scout in a small country town from the time he was 5 years old until he earned the rank of Chief Scout at 13, a level similar to an Eagle Scout in the US That was about the time he realized he had no interest in girls and was perhaps, he said, "a bit different" from the rest of the guys. Others were beginning to realize it too.

"There was the usual name-calling and homophobic behavior," he said. "I wish there was a gay troop then."

He left rural Ontario to attend college in Toronto and has become an activist in Canada's most multiethnic, cosmopolitan city. In between classes and exams, he sits on the board of the alternative high school, is active at the Christos Metropolitan Community Church, which has agreed to sponsor the troop, and works with a gay youth hotline that receives about 400 calls a month.

His efforts to educate people about issues of sexual orientation have focused on Toronto. But after news of his troop spread across the country, he realized that it was having an effect on rural enclaves like his hometown that perhaps most need troops like his. The first clue? Minnema's former scoutmaster recognized him on television and sent him a congratulatory note.

"That," he said, "was pretty great."

Published on Monday, July 3, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle

Gay and Lesbian Scouts Received With Open Arms in Tolerant Canada
Same-sex unions legally recognized

by James Brooke - New York Times TORONTO -- With knotted rainbow kerchiefs and maple leaf flag patches on their khaki uniforms, members of Scouts Canada's Rover Crew 129 stepped smartly down the route of this city's annual Gay Pride Parade last week, drawing cheers from many of the 800,000 people here for the world's first official gay and lesbian scout troop.

``It's our perspective that sexual orientation has no bearing on the ability of a person to participate in or deliver our programs,'' said Andy McLaughlin, spokesman for Scouts Canada, the organization that authorized the gay troop's investiture two weeks ago. He compared the new unit to other specialized troops in Canada, such as those for Mormons or Cantonese-speakers.

In contrast, the US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Boy Scouts of America has a right to exclude gays from its ranks because opposition to homosexuality is part of the organization's ``expressive message.'' In the American Scouts pledge, boys promise to be ``morally straight.''

But as the new gay and lesbian troop here indicates, the United States shares North America with a country that is one of the world's most tolerant regarding homosexuality.

On Friday, a bill became law in Canada that erases virtually all legal distinctions between heterosexual marriages and same-sex unions.

Changing 68 federal statutes, the new law guarantees equality in areas that include income tax filing, bankruptcy protection, alimony, pension and veterans benefits for widowed spouses, and prison conjugal visits.

The bill does this by rewriting the legal definition of ``common law marriage'' to include same-sex and heterosexual couples who have lived together for more than one year. A separate bill, expected to be passed this fall, would extend immigration privileges to same-sex couples and their dependents.

In a concession to conservatives, the new omnibus law defines marriage as ``the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.''

But today in Canada, the only remaining privileges of marriage appear to be the ability to change family names and to get divorced.

``This legislation is about tolerance and fairness,'' Justice Minister Anne McLellan said when she introduced the bill.

The new laws came after five years of court decisions largely based on a clause banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that is in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Conservative provincial governments, such as Ontario's, have complied with these court decisions, erasing virtually all legal distinctions between same-sex common law unions and heterosexual marriages.

According to Scouts Canada and to members of the gay troop, there have been few complaints about the new unit. Scouts Canada, which has about 150,000 members, said it encountered greater negative reaction two years ago when it admitted women. The only direct link between the American and Canadian groups is their membership in the World Organization of the Scout Movement, an umbrella group.

``It's a bunch of people getting together to have fun. It's a great way to meet new people,'' said Bonte Minnema, a 24-year-old University of Toronto women's studies student who leads the Rovers group, which is composed of a dozen men and women, ages 18 to 26.

Other members of the troop, or crew, recalled that when they were teen-agers their scouting units ostracized them for being gay. "After I had been out for a while, I started to feel uncomfortable in Scouting," said Sara Evans, a 20-year-old video documentary maker.

Her partner, Elaina Evans, agreed, saying she spent 10 years in the Girl Guides movement. "When I was 16 and just coming out, I had some severe homophobic experiences in Guiding," she said.

The couple have a four-year-old daughter whom they want to start this fall in Scouts Canada's youngest program, Beavers.

Enthusiastic about Scouts Canada's plans to authorize a Beavers group, known as a "colony," for children of gay parents, Elaina Evans added: "It's important for her to be in contact with other kids who have gay and lesbian parents."

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