Scouting for All, a national group working to end the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), is organizing a demonstration as part of a nationwide protest at the Empire State Building on August 21. Bert Leatherman, a 22-year-old Eagle Scout and one of the organizers, said, “I’m involved because it is an egregious message to send to the American public that gay men are not worthy of respect. And because I want to be a part of this great organization that I love so much.”
For 10 years, BSA fought to defend its belief that “an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law,” eventually winning a Supreme Court case against gay scoutmaster James Dale in June. But despite that victory, BSA may lose the war.
Many private companies and unions are slowly waking up to the fact that while supporting the Scouts had been like standing up for Mom and apple pie, it now carries the taint of defending bigotry. The Giuliani administration has not moved to end its relationship with the group, but demands are growing to show the Scouts the door.
For years, the Greater New York Council (GNYC)—part of the BSA—tried to fudge its position, signing contracts with the city affirming that it does not discriminate. Now, said Rick Martin, the borough Scout executive for Queens, “if someone has the need to say, ‘I’m a homosexual,’ we cannot sign him up with our affiliates.” The BSA national office, based in Dallas, does not allow local affiliates to deviate from its antigay policy.
Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, who chaired a fundraiser for the GNYC earlier this year, said, “The Boy Scouts should be inclusive. If they’re not going to be, we’re going to reconsider oursupport.”
Merrill Lynch is one of hundreds of corporate sponsors that contribute proceeds from industry dinners. Spokesperson Joe Cohen said the company is “committed to diversity,” and that “this recent clarification of the organization’s position will be taken into consideration as part of our regular ongoing review.”
Another donor, Michael Bloomberg, a Republican mayoral hopeful, said on behalf of Bloomberg LP, a subsidiary of Bloomberg Financial Markets, “Although we completely disagree with the Boy Scouts’ current policy that allows for selective discrimination, we believe that the proper course of action at this time is to work to try and effect change from within the organization so the worthwhile programs that the Boy Scouts have in place can continue.” Other local sponsors, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Goldman Sachs, and the New York Stock Exchange, did not return Voice calls about whether they would continue to support the Boy Scouts.
Evan Wolfson of Lambda Legal Defense, who argued the Dale case, said that now that the BSA has declared its discriminatory purpose, “the city can no longer give any special privileges, special access, or endorsements.” Indeed, New York City is barred from doing business with contractors who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but calls to City Hall to find out if the mayor is doing anything to terminate Scout contracts were not returned.
The city’s Democratic leaders have yet to move against the GNYC, but some did say that the status quo must change. Public Advocate Mark Green said, “The Boy Scouts should not have city contracts nor be given special accommodation by any city agency.” A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Peter Vallone said, “No city money should go to an organization that has a discriminatory policy.”
Comptroller Alan Hevesi said that “the law is clear” and the Scouts “and every other organization that does business with the city must abide by that law [requiring contractors not to discriminate].” Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer’s spokesperson said his boss “will not sanction exclusionary practices.”
According to the comptroller’s office, GNYC has contracts with the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, the Human Resources Administration, the Board of Education, and the Housing Authority. The largest contract, at $1.6 million, is for BSA’s Learning for Life, a coed “vocational-educational” program in public schools across the country.
Martin, a GNYC executive, said Learning for Life has a separate board and does not discriminate. “When someone wants to help the Scouts, they can fund this program where there is not this question [of antigay discrimination].”
The New York City Board of Education filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiff Dale. Board president William C. Thompson Jr., who plans to run for comptroller, said, “We will not work with an organization that discriminates,” but noted that Learning for Life “has signed our nondiscrimination policy.”
That’s not good enough for teacher Daniel Dromm of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee. “Learning for Life’s board is connected to the local Scouts council,” he said. The groups share the same offices and phone number. Learning for Life is featured on the GNYC Web site. And, Dromm said, “every school in the city allows the Boy Scouts to come in and recruit.” He wants it all stopped.
Councilmember Christine Quinn, Democrat of Chelsea, plans to introduce a resolution in the council urging the city to end its relationship with the Scouts. “Perhaps that will be enough,” she said, “and the city will abide by its own laws.”