• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

— Councilwomen Valerie Stallings and Toni Atkins are likely to be dissenters. On December 14, Stallings released this statement to me: "I recognize that the Boy Scouts of America is an outstanding organization that has positively affected the lives of many young men. However, in principle, I do not believe in leasing taxpayer land to an organization that discriminates."

In a prepared statement, new Councilmember Atkins, whose district includes Balboa Park, said, "I am opposed to discrimination in any form. Further, I believe the city needs to follow its established policy and requirements regarding leases of city-owned property."

Councilmembers know as well as opponents of the lease that on November 28, the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 to instruct all city departments to review their relationships with the scouts. Then, on December 5, the Los Angeles Police Commission counseled the Boy Scouts to end their discriminatory practices. The commission told the group that it might drop the scout-affiliated Explorer police-cadet program, which serves minority youths aged 14 to 21. The actions followed a warning by the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, which explained to city officials that any existing contracts with the Boy Scouts violated the city's antidiscrimination laws.

Talking about San Diego, Stephens says, "Not a single city of substance, not a single city that wants to be any kind of a player in the 21st Century is actually considering extending its relationship with a discriminatory organization. What we know is that the Boy Scouts have fought hard for their right to discriminate, so all hope of them coming around is lost."

Other cities have severed ties with the scouts since two recent court rulings upheld their right to discriminate. In 1998, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts are not a business and therefore are not subject to state antidiscrimination laws. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Boy Scouts are a private, religious organization, thus sanctioning their antigay and anti-atheist policies.

Los Angeles, of course, is not alone. In response to the rulings, city and town councils, school districts, and private organizations all over the country have turned on the scouts. Most notably, a number of United Way chapters have decided to stop funding scout programs. In August, for example, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the largest of 30 United Way organizations in the state, redirected scout funding that amounted to $288,000. In California, United Ways in the Bay Area, Santa Cruz, and Silicon Valley have cut scout funding. Also, major corporations, like the Rhode Island-based drugstore chain CVS, stopped making annual donations to the scouts.

There has been a flurry of activity this December regarding the scouts' policy. School boards in Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, voted either to sever their ties with the scouts entirely or to publicly denounce the organization's position. In Portland, Oregon, Wells Fargo and Portland General Electric both decided to cut scout funding. In Long Beach, Sheriff Lee Baca encouraged the Boy Scouts to agree to some sort of compromise that would allow him to support scout activities in good conscience. Churches, too, are condemning the scouts. In November, the United Congregational Church in Taunton, Massachusetts, rebuked the scouts' discriminatory practices. Even specific scout troops have defied the policy. For instance, Pack 43 of Corte Madera, in Marin County, sent a letter to the chief executive of the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America stating that it refused to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In October, the head of the Los Padres Council of the Boy Scouts, Leonard Lanzi, announced to Santa Barbara County supervisors, who were meeting to consider how to handle scout use of county land, that he was gay. The packed hearing room erupted in applause. (Ten days later, Lanzi was fired, and on December 6 he filed a discrimination suit against the Boy Scouts.)

Locally, as long ago as 1992, the Boy Scouts' refusal to let gays serve as troop leaders provoked the San Diego Police Department to sever its 25-year-old ties with the group and prompted the San Diego Human Relations Commission to call on the city to terminate its leases with the scouts.

Nevertheless, the San Diego City Council has continued to subsidize the scouts by leasing them land in Balboa Park for $1 per year and on Fiesta Island for free -- obviously far below market value. The ACLU filed its federal suit demanding that the city "terminate preferential lease agreements with the Boy Scouts for use of city park property." The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two families, the Breens and the Barnes-Wallaces, both of whom live in the city of San Diego. "The Breens," an ACLU statement explained at the time, "are agnostics who are unsure of the existence of God and who do not participate in organized religion." Their son, the suit claims, is "unable to take the Boy Scout oath, which avows a reverence for God," and so cannot participate as a scout on city land. The Barnes-Wallaces are a same-sex couple who also have a son.

"Even if the boys were able to avoid taking the scout oath...or revealing their parents' sexual orientation," the statement said, "each time the boys participated in scouting activities they would be reminded that their families are considered unfit by Boy Scout standards." What the suit claims, in other words, is that public land ceases to be open to all citizens when a discriminatory group sits on it.

San Diego's Howard Menzer, who is not a complainant in the case but who has spoken out on the issue before the city council, says that scout "standards" are no different from prejudice. Recalling the old South, and even Nazi Germany, Menzer says, "Right now, there's a sign outside scout headquarters, whether it's visible or not, that says, 'No gays allowed.' That's their standard, but it's really discrimination."

Menzer had been involved in scouting since 1945, locally since 1978. "I taught CPR to leaders so they could more safely take scouts into the woods," Menzer says. "I got out at the end of December 1999. I couldn't tolerate the situation anymore; I got tired of putting my head in the sand." Menzer says he was inspired by Eagle Scout Steven Cozza, the openly gay Petaluma boy who founded Scouting for All, a nonprofit organization made up of scouts, adult leaders, and concerned individuals "dedicated to ending the discrimination of the Boy Scouts of America towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth and adults." Scouting for All advocates that the "Boy Scouts of America end its discrimination against girls and atheists."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from the web

Comments

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close