Local Scouts Take Stand Against Policy

Photo%3A+S.+Tennant%0ALocal+Boy+Scouts+participate+in+the+color+guard+ceremony+at+the+rally+on+May+10.+The+rally+raised+media+coverage+of+gay+Scout+equality+at+City+Hall.+

Photo: S. Tennant Local Boy Scouts participate in the color guard ceremony at the rally on May 10. The rally raised media coverage of gay Scout equality at City Hall.

Elizabeth Chenok, Managing Editor

On May 23, the Boy Scouts National Council voted to allow gay youth to participate in scouting. This will be effective Jan 1, 2014. According to Boy Scouts of America, the resolution that was passed will allow boys that “demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law” to be scouts and “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” This battle has been in the public eye only recently, however has been an issue with Boy Scouts for years.

Steve Tennant, Troop Committee Chair of troop 57 has taken a stand against this rule and  made a significant impact in the Lamorinda scouting community. Tennant has only recently become a leader, however he participated in Scouts through his youth.

“In general, it’s been great. I’ve come to learn far more about Boy Scouts than I ever imagined,” Tennant said. “I think Boy Scouts has a lot to offer and I think that it’s something that’s neat and it’s a real shame that this membership policy has put a cloud over the whole thing.”

“The thing is, when many people look at the Boy Scouts, they miss out on seeing all the great opportunities that it provides because they look only at its policy on gay youths. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the Boy Scouts are absolutely great. They perform community service and encourage kids to get outdoors,” sophomore Sean McFeely, a member of Tennant’s troup, said. “But everyone sees the one percent of the time that the Boy Scouts are being discriminatory, and they judge the organization based on the one percent instead of the 99 percent. If the Boy Scouts want to restore their image in the public eye, a good first step would be repealing their policy on gay scouts.”

The membership policy is a silent one, not written in any Scoutmaster or Boy Scout handbook, according to Tennant. This internal rule was challenged in 2000 in a Supreme Court case that ruled that Boy Scouts were allowed to have this policy due to the structure of their organization. If a Scout or Scoutmaster is reported as being gay, they are kicked out of Boy Scouts; if a parent of a Boy Scout is gay, they are not allowed to volunteer with Boy Scouts. “The Scout Law says that a scout is ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent,’  but discriminating against teens because of their sexuality is not helpful, friendly, courteous, kind or brave,” McFeely said.

A Lamorinda student was directly affected by this policy. He organized and completed his Eagle Award, however was denied his official Eagle Scout award because he is gay. This shocked Tennant; it was so close to his community, in a troop just down the road from his.

“[This] was shocking to me. I thought ‘what kind of group did I join?’ I could not believe it. I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake. I called a special parents meeting and I said ‘I’m trying to figure out what to do, did I join the wrong group?’ Everyone agreed with me, and they thought the policy should be changed,” Tennant said. “I called the 17 other troops in the Lamorinda area and 12 of them thought it should change. Five thought it shouldn’t change. There was a pattern to which troops thought that the policy should stay; all five were charted by Christian churches, and all the others were charted by local organizations.”

The Lamorinda council decided to take action. Tennant went to the District Office of the Lamorinda Council and asked what could be done to provide awareness about the cause. It became clear that it was a national issue; even if Lamorinda’s council disagreed with the policy, they could not abolish the rule for their region.

“I’m very proud to say our council is the first in the country to step out against the national policy and say ‘This needs to change, and it doesn’t work for us in this community,’” Tennant said.  This perseverance started a motion of other Boy Scout troops. “They came out with that announcement about two months ago, and since then, several other councils like St. Paul, LA and others have come out and said that this needs to change. It really happened right there in the back of Miramonte. We are at ground zero for this whole Boy Scout thing, and a lot of people don’t realize it.”

The verdict passed will revoke the law that gay Boy Scouts cannot participate in scouting. However, this verdict still excludes Scoutmasters and volunteers. “It’s a very intolerant policy that’s hostile towards a lot of people, and it causes huge amounts of psychological damage for individuals and the community,” junior Chris Tennant said.

 

This issue does not only affect the gay youth and the leaders of the scouting community; it affects all members of the scouting community.

Tennant wanted it to be clear that just because he is straight it does not mean that this is not important to him and other Scouts.

Recently, troop 57 held a rally in San Fransisco about this policy, and their desire to change it. “The purpose of the rally was to generate more media coverage for this issue and let people know that there’s a lot of people who want to change this discriminatory policy,” Tennant said.

Several Miramonte Scouts in the troop attended the rally. McFeely was one of them: “I talked about how the Boy Scouts shouldn’t be putting extra pressure on kids who think they might be gay, and about how the Boy Scouts of America is a really great organization and the discriminatory policy is really just hurting them,” McFeely said.

Many supporters of the cause came to the rally and spoke, including Senator Mark Leno and the leader of the group “Scouts for Equality” Zack Wahls, whose video of him speaking to Iowa senators about gay equality went viral on YouTube last year.

Eric Andreson, the father of the Moraga student who was kicked out of Boy Scouts, spoke as well as Scout Leaders Wendall Baker and Tennant, along with several Scouts.

Over six different media outlets came to the rally, and it was broadcasted on channels 2 and 7 as well as KCBS.

“I heard Sean [McFeely] and myself on the radio, Eric [Andreson] was also on the radio. it was a little surreal,” Tennant said. I came away very inspired listening to the speakers at the rally. I think the goals were achieved and then some,” Tennant said.

“Overall, I thought that it was a very importaint event to be having. This happened just five days before the National Board voted on whether or not they wanted to change the policy. It was important to get the word out in time for people to take action in changing the policy,” McFeely said.

This rally was not the only media coverage Tennant had before the vote; he was on television.  He and his son appeared on a late night CBS segment about the Boy Scout policy.

Innitially CBS contacted Tennant to see if he was or knew any gay Scouts or scout masters  who were willing to talk on CBS. “Anyone who would raise their hand would be kicked out of Boy Scouts [at this time the policy had not been passed],” Tennant said. “I told them they were never going to find that person, however that I thought they were missing a whole part of the story. There are a lot of straight people who disagree with the policy and that CBS was missing out on that part.”

Progress for this movement has been building over the years, and Boy Scouts is actively involved in this change. The recent vote for a repeal shows how far Boy Scouts has come in reaching equality. “Sexuality doesn’t influence whether you’re a ‘good’ person,” McFeely said.

“No social justice movement has ever failed; it’s just a matter of time,” Tennant said. “This is a ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ conversation that’s happening with the Boy Scouts. This issue is not going away until everyone is allowed to be part of Boy Scouts, and society. This is the civil rights movement of our generation. Our Declaration of Independence said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ It’s the core of our whole country and one day the Boy Scouts will get there.”

 

If you are interested in getting involved visit www.scoutsforequality.com