Should districts distance themselves from Scouts?Some are upset by a national policy that excludes gays.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:45 PM
"Irked by what they say are discriminatory practices by the Boy Scouts of America, some parents are asking the school and park districts to re-evaluate their relationships with that organization.At immediate issue is whether the school district should continue to give reduced rates for use of building space and other privileges to the scouting organization.The issue, to us, is respecting all students, said parent Jing Fong. We want the district to carry out beliefs and convictions they have stated consistently.The district prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In implementing that policy, the district voluntarily extended to gay and lesbian students and staff protection required by law for other groups. But the policy that Fong, multicultural council co-chair Charlotte Rovelstad and others want the district to rescind from the Boy Scouts, allows non-profit youth organizations to rent space at reduced rates; post information on school bulletin boards; send information home with students; and have access to students' names and addresses. Under that policy, youth groups may be invited by an individual school to provide color guards or entertainment for official school events.In a recent response to Fong and Rovelstad, district Superintendent Steve Rowley wrote that the district will not remove privileges from groups renting district facilities, because renters enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of association under the First Amendment. School board president Ken Breiland said this week that attorneys have advised the district not to consider renters' political orientation when deciding which to include in a given category.We are strongly encouraged not to get into 'viewpoint discrimination,' Breiland said. Fong and Rovelstad's request to the school board comes in the context of nationwide examination of scouting. Since a Supreme Court decision to uphold the scouting organization's right to exclude openly gay scout leaders, school districts nationwide have been reviewing their association with the organization. Some districts that sponsored scout troops - Bainbridge does not - have severed ties. Others that have offered scouts reduced rental fees, and such perks as access to student lists, no longer do.The issue is now under consideration by the Seattle School District. There, a legislative committee may soon recommend the privileged status of the scouts be revoked, for non-compliance with district anti-discrimination policies.The committee does not feel that they are discriminating against the Boy Scouts, board staff Becky Taylor said. They feel they are upholding their own policies. We can't just ignore our own policies.Local, nationalThe recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Boy Scouts' right to exclude gay scout leaders came as a surprise to many scouts and troop leaders, since many had been involved with the organization for years without realizing that the ban on gays existed.I've received no policy directive from the central Boy Scouts office, a Bainbridge Island scout leader said this week. If it's a policy, it's a policy the troops know nothing about.However, a spokesperson for the BSA's national headquarters in Irving, Texas, said, Our policy is in place and has been for a long time.Some believe the agendas of conservative churches drive the BSA policy.Several national religious denominations are the largest charter partners to the Boy Scouts, sponsoring more individual troops than other groups. At least one has merged scouting with its youth education program, making scouting mandatory. It will not be an issue here unless someone is an avowed homosexual and speaks specifically about sexuality, which should not happen, straight or gay, said Carol Murray, spokesperson for the Chief Seattle Council, headquarters for Puget Sound Boy Scouts. If a boy came and said, 'I am gay,' we would refer him to his pastor and family to decide whether he wanted to avow his homosexuality or whether he wished to continue to have the boy scouting experience.The official Boy Scout position is reminiscent to Fong of the military's don't ask, don't tell rule. She says gay scouts in parts of the country are being outed, effectively eliminating their choice. Lew Scheinert, a leader of Bainbridge's gay community, said that while no one would consider a scout master an avowed heterosexual if he said he was leaving a meeting to go pick up his wife, the same could not be said about a gay scout leader who mentioned that he gave his boyfriend a ride to the ferry.We agree that kids shouldn't be talking about sex, Scheinert said, but it's not about sex - it's about their identity and the psychological toll that having to keep that secret takes on a child.Even if the national scouting organization has a discriminatory policy, some ask, should that matter if the policy is ignored by the local scout troop? Some community members believe that taking action against local scouts would be punitive to groups that have, as Breiland says, done a lot of good works on the island.According to one local scouting volunteer, troop leaders don't really support central office on this one. They are in anguish. Some wish the issue would just go away. Those little kids don't care about this issue, the volunteer said. The gay issue isn't something we spend a lot of time thinking about. My object is to help boys, not to interject a political point of view. Scouting is being attacked by people with political agendas. They're trying to undercut the grassroots support of scouting.One parent, committed to the Bainbridge district as a volunteer said, The boy scouts should be given no considerations whatsoever by the (school) district, because they discriminate. If I didn't sit down with my kid and tell him 'I know it's fun, honey, but what they believe in is wrong,' I would be derelict in my duty as a parent. Dave Lewis, director of the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, suggested that the issue should focus on what Bainbridge scout troops are doing, not an overarching policy of the national organization. Are you concerned about your local community, Lewis asked, or about voicing a national concern?However, he said, the park district is revisiting its own policies after the proposal by some community members to rename Camp Hopkins for a scout leader.We have a facility policy of nondiscrimination - no public agency can be in the position to support discrimination, Lewis said.Fong said she hopes that though school officials are steering around the issue now, they may confront it in the future - particularly if other districts lead the way.Rowley says that it would be changes in the law or active implementation of the scouts' discriminatory policies against district students that would initiate a policy shift. If we receive knowledge, Rowley said, that these local groups are actively practicing discrimination; if one of our kids at Strawberry Hill, for example, is refused membership, then we will have to reconsider. "