Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Scouts May Shift Stance on Gays

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Scouts May Shift Stance on Gays

Article excerpt

The Boy Scouts of America may soon give sponsors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as Scouts and leaders -- a potentially dramatic retreat from an exclusionary nationwide policy that has provoked relentless protests.

Under the change that is being discussed, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout troops would be able to decide for themselves whether to maintain an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or open up their membership.

For James Dale, a former Eagle Scout from New Jersey who was expelled from the organization after he revealed he is gay, the policy change doesn't go far enough.

"It's great they're having this dialogue," said Dale, whose case against the Scouts went to the U.S. Supreme Court. "But they're only going halfway. Americans can all agree that discrimination is wrong."

Dale, who joined the Scouts in Monmouth County at age 8, considered his troop "like a second family" and continued to the highest levels and served as an assistant scoutmaster while a student at Rutgers University. He was ousted from the Scouts in 1990 after leaders read a newspaper article in which Dale said he was gay.

"The message was I wasn't good enough," said Dale, now 42 and living in New York City. "I was unclean. By being openly gay, it was immoral. That's a horrible message to send to any child."

Dale sued, claiming the Scouts discriminated. The state Supreme Court ruled against the organization, but in 2000, the nation's highest court upheld the Scouts' right to exclude gays.

Monday's announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the no-gays policy -- including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

Under the proposed change, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith, "the Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents."

Smith said the change could be announced as early as next week, after BSA's national board concludes a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 6. The meeting will be closed to the public.

Patrick Coviello, deputy Scout executive for the Northern New Jersey Council, said board members were discussing the proposed policy, but he declined to comment pending the outcome of the meeting next week. The council represents Scouts in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties.

The Boy Scouts of America, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded gays and atheists. Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and that the BSA continued to view "Duty to God" as one of its basic principles.

Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to non- discrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.

More recently, amid petition campaigns, shipping giant UPS and drug manufacturer Merck announced that they were halting donations from their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays policy was in force.

Troy Stevenson, CEO of Garden State Equality, a leading gay rights advocacy group in New Jersey, called the proposal "an important move. …

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