Friday, October 17, 2014

Highline School District Ends BSA Recruiting During School Day

Highline School District is taking the matter of nondiscrimination seriously, ending the prior practice of allowing BSA personnel access to students and facilities during the school day. See this post for background: http://huhwot.blogspot.com/2014/09/boy-scouts-of-america-and-illegal.html. Here is the reponse from Superintendent Enfield:
Highline Public Schools
Ambaum Boulevard Southwest
Burien, Washington 98166
highlineschools.org
206.433.0111

October 10, 2014

Dear Mr. McGrath,

I have received notification of your complaint regarding Boys Scouts of America distributing program material and recruiting students during the school day. We recognize that these activities should not have occurred during the school day. The district has implemented reasonable measures to eliminate this circumstance in the future. We have spoken with the principal in question to make sure she is aware that these activities should occur befoer or after school. Further, we have taken the initiative to remind all building leadership of our Nondiscrimination policy and the Equal Access Act.

If you have any further questions, or believe your concerns have not been addressed, you may appeal to the School Board of Directors by filing a written notice of appeal to the Secretary of the Board. Please refer to the attached Board Policy and Procedure 3210 and 3210P for specific timeline information.

Sincerely,
(signed)
Susan Enfield, Ed. D.
Superintendent
It is interesting to compare the difference in tone and rational with that provided by Seattle Public Schools, who made program changes but claimed it was due to academic rigor rather than discrimination.

Do you think that Highline has gone far enough to ensure all students and families are treated with equal respect and dignity? Your comments and concerns are welcome in the section below.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boy Scouts of America and Illegal Recruiting in Highline Public Schools

The problem of illegal recruiting on the part of Boy Scouts of America in public schools in Washington State continues. This week it is in the town of Burien, a suburb of Seattle, in the Highline School District. I read about the recruiting in an article published in the Huffington Post, which prompted my letter to the District Ombudsman:
Dear Ms. Niizuma-Arambula,

I read this article in the press with alarm today: How the Cub Scouts' Exclusion Impacts Our Fourth Grader

I'm sure you are aware it is against state law and public policy for organizations that discriminate against LGBT people to have access to our students and facilities (see this article published by the OSPI: http://www.k12.wa.us/SafetyCenter/BullyingHarassment/pubdocs/ProhibitingDiscriminationPublicSchools.pdf).

The only exception to this in relation to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), in that they must be given equal access to rent facilities before or after school in an equal manner with any other neighborhood group.

Besides the recruiting event noted above, I have the following questions of Highline Public Schools:

  1. What other recruiting events for BSA happen during the school day?
  2. What will be done to correct this event and ensure no further violations occur?
  3. What other programs of BSA currently operate in this district?
  4. Does this district currently have Scoutreach, Learning For Life, or any other inter-operation, contracts or programs run by BSA or their Learning For Life subsidiary?
  5. Are BSA personnel currently permitted on school grounds during the school day?
I would be happy to discuss this with further, and look forward to your response. If there is a procedure that should be followed that I have not yet followed to ensure this is handled as a formal complaint please let me know what I should do.Thank you very much for your consideration and attention to this..

Yours,
Geoff McGrath, MSW
Are you aware of similar recruiting going on in your school district? If so, be sure and write a letter of complaint to your district ombudsman or compliance officer. They are required to respond within specific timeframes to resolve the matter within the constraints of the law. Discuss your efforts, successes and concerns in the comments below.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Analysis of the Scouts for Equality Strategy Briefing

Scouts for Equality (SFE) is "an American advocacy organization that advocates for equal treatment within the Boy Scouts of America's for all scouts and scout leaders, regardless of sexual orientation." It recently published a strategy briefing to see what the thrust of SFE would be going forward. It merits a longer post, but in brief here is my rather hard-nosed analysis:
  1. Praise of BSA
  2. Credit taking for the outcome of the 2013 vote and the new membership policy
  3. Little discussion of the problems of the new policy for youth
  4. Encouragement of continued participation in BSA
  5. No option for those who cannot or will not participate in BSA
  6. No participation/visibility of LGBT adults
  7. Praise for Robert M. Gates
  8. Charitable mind-reading of Gates' actual intentions and plans
  9. etc.
Significant as well is what was not discussed:
  1. duplicity of BSA regarding age of adult membership, and Gates' participation in that decision
  2. analysis of how these plans accelerate change above do-nothing baseline
  3. helping "grow" the program during epoch of discrimination--doesn't that rather discourage change?
  4. the steps individuals and units can/should take now
  5. addressing the actual needs of LGBT youth and adults in BSA now
  6. etc.
Perhaps the plans to rate individual councils on their actual support of full equality and preparedness to meet the actual needs of LGBT members will be useful, though it is hard to say until those plans are circulated. Why rating Councils rather than Units makes sense is not discussed. Note the prior advice for LGBT scout/scouters thinking of coming out was rather limited, broke no new ground, and provided nothing that wasn't already available from other venues.

Basically, I see little daylight between the official BSA position and SFE, in that both seek to grow the program (BSA) without bringing irresistible pressure for change to any layer of the program. There is a fantasy discussion about how the policy will change by virtue of a top-down effort driven by people who are on record to do nothing for the next two years, and with every reason to believe their intentions are to continue to do nothing after that, unless compelled to do differently by force majeure.

SFE appears to believe that because its board is made up of Eagle Scouts therefore it has leverage with the BSA organization. But there is no recognition that current BSA members (of which few if any SFE board members are), whether volunteer or professional, are hierarchically focused--they look up their chain of command and don't look to former members, no matter what rank those former members achieved.

Without a change in strategies and tactics I suspect that BSA will continue to ignore the efforts of SFE. But imagine BSA were to encourage the efforts of SFE--what happens then? Essentially it allows BSA to return to growth, to continue to confuse the nation that BSA is actually supportive of diversity and inclusion, without making any real or meaningful change.

I may have missed an important point or two--what was your read, what do you think is useful or not useful in the presentation, and what is needed to make real our aspiration for fully inclusive scouting today?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Parallels between Jim Crow and current BSA Discrimination?

This article points to the dilemma we all face (it is addressing the United Methodist Church, but the situation is synonymous to that in the BSA, LDS and other institutions who hold the right to discriminate as a higher virtue): Echoes of Jim Crow in the United Methodist Church.

The comments are worth the read as well.

How we face the "echoes of Jim Crow laws" is key--and it is on each of us to find the justifiable and defensible place for ourselves, in front of our peers, and before the judgment of the generations to come.

For my own involvement in these institutions, I strive always for this: To work constantly and directly towards a fully-inclusive future, and otherwise to facilitate an "underground railroad" providing a route to safety and freedom for the oppressed and for those forced to oppress if they remain.

There is a test to know when we are collaborating with the status quo, or taking advantage of a closeted or privileged position: If after every participation in the discriminating organization we come away thinking perhaps the words spoken or actions taken on that specific day are likely to bring about the desired institutional change, or to lead to your own expulsion from the organization, that is when we know we have stepped into the uncertainty and taken the risks required for change. It doesn't require a majority of us to live dangerously, and to take the leap of faith, but it does require some of us.

When enough of us predicate our continued participation in this way the change becomes inevitable, and the discrimination will end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Superintendent declares Seattle Public Schools will End Affiliation with Boy Scouts of America

Sometimes change comes slowly, even when the laws are in place and the policies already written that require change in a timely way. Sometimes the reason for the change, and the scope of the change is fully acknowledged, and other times the reasons become obscured.

Here is what I'm talking about: District policy requires prompt action within published time-frames. I wrote to the district in May--they requested additional time, and then agreed change was needed in July. I requested confirmation from the Superintendent--policy requires a prompt response, with the change actually implemented within 30 days. Here we are two months later. The letter you'll read below is reasonably straight-forward. It is clear that the Superintendent is going to end the affiliation with the Boy Scout of America (BSA) based on the concerns raised with the school district back in May. I was gratified to finally received this letter via e-mail (even though it never arrived in the post as promised, and required some persistence on my part to have it finally sent).


August 18, 2014

Mr. Geoffrey McGrath
Seattle, WA 98118

RE: POST at Garfield High School

Dear Mr. McGrath,

Thank you for bringing your concern about the POST program at Garfield High School to the attention of our staff. Our staff, led by Mr. Larry Dorsey, reviewed this course offering and determined that the affiliation of the Boy Scouts of America with a credit-bearing course is not appropriate. Therefore, we are taking steps to end the affiliation before the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

It is our plan to transition this offering into an environmental education course for the students who have enrolled in POST. In order to make this transition, the content of the course will be evaluated by our Career & Technical Education (CTE) program manager to ensure the content is sufficient to provide course credit. In addition, we are working with our Risk Management office to determine the insurance needed for this type of course. As long as the course is worthy of credit and the district is able to obtain sufficient insurance, we will transition to an environmental education course for the 2014-2015 school year. If it is not, the course will be dropped and the students will be reassigned to other courses.

Again, thank you for your concern and I hope this answers your questions. Mr. Dorsey will be available to keep you updated as we work on this transition.

Sincerely,
(signed)
Dr. Larry Nyland
Superintendent
While the letter doesn't address my concerns about the Scoutreach(tm) program, it is clear they intend the POST program to be re-implemented without BSA's involvement. If you look at my prior blog entries the district arrived at this decision and wrote about it back in early July. Curiously, the district never informed the instructor (I hear he was called by the press today about it, and likely was distressed to hear first from them rather than from his superiors).

Today a member of the press stopped by to get my reaction. He tells me the district told him that they were making program changes not because of discrimination, but because of problems related to academic rigor. I think they suggested that discrimination had nothing to do with it, and even claimed that the original concern was originated by a parent. The story just got published, you can read it here: http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/seattle/2014/08/27/seattle-public-schools-ends-boy-scouts-affiliation/14718563/

As far as I can tell, our new Superintendent was being straight with me, even if he has yet to be responsive with regards to the other BSA programs operating in other public schools. I don't know who the reporter spoke with--but I'm curious to find out. If it was some bureaucrat simply invented a reason then I suppose that is understandable, and they'll get their story straightened out. But if it turns out the Superintendent is inventing new reasons, then that could be an early indicator of truth-telling problems coming from the top.

Either way, transparency matters. Just ask the people of Ferguson, Mo. They'll tell you. They have a tale of woe we should all be paying attention to because of the official shenanigans played out by the folks in power.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath Speaks at Lambda Legal Annual Reception in Seattle

I've been asked to speak, and my prepared remarks are below. Not being used to speaking from written copy I expect what is actually said may differ significantly from the plan! The event is Lambda Legal's Seattle Garden Party 2014, and they will be "serving up some fabulous cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and celebrate an unprecedented year of victories for equality following last summer's striking down of DOMA. Guests will hear updates of Lambda Legal's work on the lovely grounds of Kay Bullitt's Capitol Hill home among friends and supporters." Kevin Cathcart, Lambda Legal's Executive Director, will be there, and Pastor Monica Corsaro will receive an honor on behalf of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church for their courageous stand against the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) policy excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Thank you for your kind words. Thank you members of the board, and the Seattle Leadership Committee of Lambda Legal for your tireless work and advocacy for our cause, and for the dedicated leadership of each of you, and especially Executive Director Kevin Cathcart. Thank you Senator Jamie Pederson for your call asking the Pastor Monica Corsaro and me to join you here tonight. It came like mana from heaven, like a moist dew in a dry desert, and helps us all to reflect on the work that remains before us; in reaffirming our commitment to build a more just and equal society for ourselves, for our youth, and for the future. Most of all I want to thank my parents, Carl and Muiriel McGrath who are here tonight, and my husband Michael Bolasina, for their love and care and support.

Eric Holder spoke a few weeks ago at a similar event of a period of "unrelenting discrimination, harassment, and prejudice," and of an "era marked by hostility, fear, and isolation." I am here to report that era continues.

That era continues in our town in over 900 youth groups supported in part by directed giving programs via the United Way of King County. And via its refusal to insist that all contractors agree to equal opportunity in employment for LGBT individuals.

That era continues in our town with the ongoing refusal the greatest retailer the world has ever known to address this issue. Based here in our own community, and despite its clear policies to not fund intolerance, Amazon.com's continuing silence gives aid and comfort to an unjust status quo.

That era continues in our town because of the lack of enforcement in our Public Schools, who are infiltrated by an organization that is persistent in its discrimination against LGBT individuals, and in the preservation and perpetuation of of the worst stereotypes, continuing to communicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults are unfit to mentor, to teach, and to serve as role models for the leaders of future generations. And refusing to address the needs of LGBT youth for mentorship, nurture specific to their needs, and role models to identify with.

That era continues in our town because the Red Cross refuses to knowingly take our gay blood, and refuses to reform its own policies, practices, and where necessary advocate for needed changes to the law.

Nine hundred youth groups here in our community. Each one a pack, troop, ship, team or post in the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Each one administered by a straights-only workforce, with its animus-driven discriminatory rules and policies. Each one sponsored by a church, government agency or community group. And In the traditional Boy Scout programs representing 90%, all gay adults who serve are forced into the closet, and cannot serve with dignity, are forced to compromise their integrity, and through their service are forced to participate in this unjust system.

Other United Ways north of us in Snohomish County and Whatcom County refuse to collaborate, while the United Way of King County continues in our town to contract with the Boy Scouts of America through the shell corporation called Learning for Life.

I was speaking with my father last night, talking about the events of the past year. I was struggling to find the successes of our efforts, that I could share with you today. Feeling acutely my personal limitations, and the disappointment that despite our city elder's efforts we were unable to hold the line: Chief Seattle Council refused tell the National Boy Scouts of America that their despicable policy ends here. I hoped that when this crisis developed that our local Chief Seattle Council would hold firm, stand by their decision to found a fully inclusive scout troop, and stand with the values of our city, to show that we in this city and this council are different.

My father told me, "Only good can come of what's happened, and without it having happened the good that must come could not begin." He said, "Speak to your 18 year old self of 31 years ago. Talk across the generations. Because isn't that what you're doing today, and have been doing all year, in bringing inclusive scouting to your neighborhood, and by example to the nation?"

And so I am here to report to you today a great joy in my life, a personal blessing that I hope will in turn bless others:

Thirty-one years ago there was no one I knew; no one in my family, my school, my church or my scout troop, who I knew to be gay. When I was 18 I was completely alone. Completely in the closet--so isolated and afraid of that I could not even think the words, or contemplate the possibility that I my sexual orientation was non-normative.

Today things have changed. Youth come out much earlier on average, and many have good support in their families, neighborhoods, schools and churches. Equal employment opportunity is becoming normative many parts of the nation. Equal marriage is the law of the land in many states, and SCOTUS willing soon in the entire nation. Except for scouting.

Together the pastor and I, our church community and the Rainier Beach neighborhood dared to dream a new dream. In bringing a new youth group to our neighborhood, we envisioned a small part--the smallest part of our effort--to include scouting shedding its discrimination against LGBT participation. We implemented that vision in full partnership with Chief Seattle Council. And when they could not stand up to the foul wind blowing out of Texas, from the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America, we managed the transition to truly a inclusive program that had our back, that would defend, support and nurture all our members.

I stand before you today in a new uniform, different from the one I wore as a child, as a youth, and earlier this year in the BSA. I introduce you to the Baden-Powell Service Association, a traditional scouting organization, part of the international scouting movement. A member of the World Federation of Independent Scouts. Troop 98 of the BSA is reborn as the 98th Rainier Scout Group. Boys and girls scout together in full participation and equal dignity. Our gay parents, and their children are fully embraced. Our straight and gay youth have appropriate role models, and support, guidance and nurturance specific to their needs. We are scouting today with joy and energy, living the scout Law and Promise that Baden-Powell developed over a century ago, and generations of scouts have cherished ever since.

Our transition hasn't been for free--new uniforms and scout handbooks cost money---you can help with that by donating to the youth on your way out. In return you will receive a special commemorative patch.

Lambda Legal and assembled guests, thank you for this recognition, and for drawing attention and helping carry water for so many years on this issue, on the proposition that all are and by rights ought to be equal. Equal in membership, participation and service. Equal in visibility. Equal in dignity.
Individuals wishing to help defray the unexpected costs of re-uniforming our youth, and other costs of implementing scouting in our neighborhood, donations are most welcome, and can be made either by Paypal to the Scoutmaster directly or tax-deductible donations can be made via the church website (see the donate button at http://rainierbeachumc.org/door/). Contact me directly if you have equipment or other items to donate. And thanks for your support!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Real-life Struggles at Scout Camp


Scout camp. We want it to be about fun and skills. New friendships and care-free days and nights. With the only worry being how well the skit that's been worked on all week will be received by fellow campers, and whether the mess hall will cook enough grub for third-helpings. Mostly out of sight and mind are complications, including the complication of discrimination against some campers and some staff members. But for some those complications are constantly just under the surface. And sometimes the complications become the most important thing in their world. To illustrate, here is a concern received from a BSA scout camper, written by a gay kid who works there. A kid who will be forced out of his job this year or next because of the policies reported in the press http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/boy-scouts-cut-age-limit-18-move-will-impact-gays-n110521. His concern demonstrates the deeply complicated position that gay kids are in--where they cannot advocate effectively for themselves, and feel compelled to quash advocacy efforts of others to prevent their own precarious position from unraveling. Here are his words (edited to protect his privacy):
I noted your post on the Facebook page of scout camp where I work. As someone intent on moving equality forward, I know you would like to hear how your efforts are being received by those you are reaching out to, in this case the Camp staff and Directors. I was in the office doing work when the Program Director called me in to talk to me about your post. Yup, the Program Director is gay.
The Camp Director is also gay.

I am employed at this camp and I too am gay. I'm also totally out.

I don't broadcast my being gay out of personal preference, but my director, Scout Executive and the entire camp staff know it. None have taken any action against me. It is commonly discussed here, my boyfriend came to visit openly last week, and all is well. In other words, my scout camp, its staff, and my Council are doing what they can to keep openly gay scouts in the program. 

A official public post against the policy by the camp director is simply impossible at this point as it would accomplish little other than many losing their jobs. While the entire camp staff of 70+ strongly supports equality, your post angered many, and in fact caused many to speak out against, and not in favor of the Scouting equality movement.

In this case, your post did little to nothing to move equality forward. If anything, and I assure you of this, it angered several gay members of our camp staff, isolated many supporters of scouting equality, and overall made them far less positive about scouting equality. It brought us farther from our goal. 
It is the first task of the LGBT youth to do what they must to safely achieve adulthood, accomplishing the normal developmental tasks of all adolescents, and eventually achieve independence and stability. For many this requires living a secret life, or coming out only to a select few trusted peers. Others are more fortunate, and can come out more generally. But youth members of BSA are at significant risk if they should come out, lest their status "become a distraction." And many, as in this case, feel they must align themselves against their own self interest to preserve their place in the hetero-normative culture of the Boy Scouts of America.

The task and responsibility of employees, program and camp directors, and scout executives is different. Their task is to build the program, to make it safe for all participants. To mark out danger areas such as ax yards, swimming holes and rifle ranges in the time-tested ways. And also to be clear about the level of support and defense that their LGBT participants and employees actually have. To not be coy or cagey about it. To be straight about it, and uncomplicated, and to speak the truth. If the truth hurts, then it is on them to make the change. Indeed, it is on each of us, as none of us can escape our responsibility in this.

I wish I could explain to this young man that the support he imagines exists for him at his camp isn't really there, not if it is so fragile that my Facebook rating (who looks at those, anyways?) of the camp he works at is damaged by it. I wish he could see how corrosive the effects of these policies are on the souls of all scouts, and how corrosive it is on the leadership in his council and at his camp. I wish I could help him shake those effects off--help him stand up free of the shackles that bind him, that compel him to speak out in favor of his own silence, and that cause him to be complicit in creating the prison that binds him.

This camp like so many others is run by well meaning people who happen to be gay. This cam like so many others another example of the lack of justification of the anti-gay membership and employment policy, A policy predicated simply on animus from the BSA towards gays, and the inconvenience it causes in their relationships with their religious partners. The problem is the policy, not the personnel. The problem isn't what people wish for or their personal attitudes. It is institutional. Institutional bias is established in practice and policy, and wishing for change doesn't make change. Institutional change requires hard work--the work of individuals and groups, internally and externally, and the engagement of legal systems and other institutions as necessary to end the institutional bias, and corruption it causes.