Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scouting and the Media: Why it matters

Last year I agreed to participate in an interview by Al Jazeera regarding the continuing discrimination against LGBT scouts, families and employees in the Boy Scouts of America, and featuring the twin Eagle Scouts Liam and August. The interview was published on Al Jazeera's program America Tonight in June, 2014. Afterwards a friend inquired:
How did the interview go?
Iran is having borders re-drawn pre 1954...ISIS is evaporating the Syrian border, Russia is occupying a previously colonized peninsula, the US no longer has ground troops--now it has advisers--and Al Jazeera wants to interview gay boy scouts?.... what is this Al Jazeera? A slow news day? No offence guys.....

My Response [June 2014]

The twins' story came after a piece on the deteriorating conditions in Iraq, and following a discussion of the experience of refugees from Bhutan to the Pacific Northwest.

Did you know that up to 40% of the homeless kids in Seattle are gay or lesbian. Or that 75% of homeless kids in Salt Lake City are gay or lesbian. These kids have been either kicked out of their homes, or have run away from abusive and/or neglectful situations. These kids need someone to help them, and to work to change the situation that causes their homelessness.

In America the average age of "coming out" as gay is 12 years old. These kids, if they are in Scouts may want to talk about it with their scout leader--in some cases their scout leader is the first person they tell. But that scout leader may not know anything about how to help, or may even be hostile to the idea that a young kid is gay. Because BSA refuses to train their leaders correctly, and because BSA confuses the issue.

Sometimes a young 12-year-old has difficulty reading social may "come out" to an unprepared or hostile scout leader. Then what happens? The scout leader may kick the kid out. Or he may tell the kid's parent--and the parent may be even less prepared, or more hostile to the child than the scout leader is. Which may result in abuse, neglect or homelessness. The Boy Scouts of America policies and practices abandons, leaving them to fend for themselves. The smart ones who can read the social queues are able to opt to stay in the closet. The lucky scouts have a caring and informed scout leader. But most of these kids (and that means about one in ten kids!) don't. To BSA these issues don't matter--that what matters is the corporate and religious prerogatives of BSA and its sponsors. I reject the idea that these kids don't matter.

Consider, if there are 2,500,000 Scouts in America, there are perhaps 250,000 kids directly facing this--and they are individually at risk. Some are lucky, some are smart. Most are in danger of mistreatment or neglect. And that doesn't address the gay and lesbian adults who serve quietly and in secret--they are also in danger from their fellow scouters.

There are 106,000 scouting units in America--each one has between 5 and 10 adults on average working as a Scouter. That means there are likely 50,000 to 100,000 LGBT adults who serve in secret, and in fear that one of the other adults members or persons from the community might become jealous and have them kicked out. Living in fear like that is terrible--and it means these adults are taken advantage of. All so that straight people don't have to change the rule that says gay people cannot serve in equal dignity with straight people.

The editors at Al Jazeera did consider this story to be worth reporting--both in the difficulties presented to people at scale throughout our society, as well as in the specifics of the two young men profiled. This story, showing these young men and their father living with integrity in the context of a deeply flawed and compromised organization, is a story that for some parents and some young people throughout the nation will help them know how to navigate their own situation in a way consistent with all 12 points of the scout law, and for the rest to consider their role in perpetuating a system that casts so many aside, or otherwise struggles and fails to grace all with equal dignity.

Media Again, Why? [July 2015]

A year later the media is again asking for opportunities to discuss scouting in America, and are curious to know how the Boy Scouts of America's announced [pending] policy changes may affect our scout group. When I asked the parents if they wished to participate, they responded enthusiastically, saying these are matters that concern them, and their voices and faces should be part of the national conversation. The scouts also feel it is important, and they want to be able to share their story with their friends.

A Word About BSA Organization

Charters are accepted by Council and then forwarded to National. If National has questions then Councils are obligated to support/defend their decision before National. The procedure for individual memberships is similar. Chief Seattle Council personnel have said "this is on the top of the Scout Exec's list" but for weeks has made no private nor public statement of intent, inclusion, congratulations nor welcome to LGBT youth, families, employees, nor to the Charter Organization, Pack and Troop kicked out last year.

National has maintained this change to their discrimination policy is forced upon them. They also disclaim any responsibility to individual scouts or units, insisting those responsibilities rest solely upon their Charter Organizations. Disclaiming responsibility while claiming monopoly on the scouting movement in America is problematic.

The actual needs of LGBT people remain unaddressed by BSA, and leave allies in the struggle for equal dignity uncertain. More can be done than has been done, even within the constraints of their proposed policy, for those reluctant to draw outside the lines. The new policy was published on the BSA website, and can be read here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Boy Scouts of America's New Policy of Discrimination

Yesterday the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced a draft of its new discrimination policy, expected to be adopted July 27, 2015 at the national board meeting. These documents were published outlining the details:
What is so curious about this announcement is that it outlines a continuing policy of discrimination at a time when most organizations are struggling to do the opposite. Most everyone else is trying to actively end discrimination in all it's forms, but with this policy discrimination against LGBT individuals may continue in the up-to 70% of units that are sponsored ("chartered") by religious institutions, and invidious discrimination against girls/women and the godless on the part of the Boy Scouts of America will continue. The activism and pressure that was required to end the active discrimination against LGBT youth and adults in membership and employment continues to be required to bring about change. The BSA admits (see links above) the changes currently in play is primarily due to actual or threatened litigation, as well as BSA (perhaps unintentionally) having abandoning the expressive claims made in the BSA v. Dale Decision.

The BSA's continued practice of discrimination against LGBT in volunteering and membership in their religiously sponsored scouting units continues to prevent them from re-entering their formerly privileged positions in communities and educational settings throughout the nation. The changes announced yesterday and expected at month's end are limited to ending an active policy of discrimination against "avowed homosexuals," while simultaneously permitting it to continue with its religious partners. Local Councils will continue to attempt to adopt non-discrimination policies that National BSA in the documents published yesterday insist are null and void.

BSA's proposed policy changes continue to abandon youth and families in religiously discriminating units, leaving them at risk. The public will see this and continue to object to it. Those religious organizations that do not change will be increasingly marginalized by the rest of society.

BSA has bought a little goodwill with the changes announced today, but that goodwill will erode over time if BSA cannot figure out how to welcome those members it is currently deciding to not actively mistreat and neglect, and if it fails to extend scouting to those it still actively excludes.

As with the changes in membership policy January 1 2014, the changes now proposed by the BSA is not predicated on the needs of families and children. Not one word in the materials prepared for communication with the public, nor with units, charter organizations nor councils speaks to the special vulnerabilities of LGBT youth and the risks they face at the hands of those in whose care they are entrusted. Not one word addresses the needs of families with LGBT members or participants. The BSA is making this change with the narrowest of focus: "that the National Executive Board will act in the best interest of our organization."

Holding the "rights of religious chartered organizations" to continue invidious discrimination without simultaneously discussing and safe-guarding the needs, indeed the rights, of children and families to equal dignity and protection, participation and expression goes beyond neglect. It is reckless endangerment.

Subjecting children and families to what amounts to a ZIP code lottery is simply immoral.

Let's be clear. With this change BSA adopts a new policy of discrimination at a time when what is needed is a policy of NON-discrimination. National BSA threatens all Councils throughout the nation that if they adopt non-discrimination policies the prohibit any chartering organization the prerogative to mistreat, neglect, abandon, discipline or discharge any who are or are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, then "The National Council will take action on a council that violates this provision." (-source: Adult Leadership Standards and Resources Update June 2015, Question 18).

What kind of respectable child and youth serving organization does that?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Response to An Anonymous Scoutmaster

This morning I read an op-ed piece posted in the South Seattle Emerald written anonymously by a gay scoutmaster, currently serving in Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He says:
I am an Eagle Scout myself. I am also a Scoutmaster, and I happen to be gay. I was awarded Scoutmaster of the year by my district in 2014, but if my local council knew that I am gay I would no longer be allowed to serve which is why I write this in anonymity. I am committed to serving the youth in my troop and for that reason I cannot be honest about who I am...
It’s about time the BSA follows its own rules and allow LGBT leaders to serve. I’m calling on the Chief Seattle Council of the BSA to be a leader and adopt its own inclusion policy for the sake of the youth the program serves. After all it is the Cub Scout Motto to “Do your best.” Is the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts really living up to that?
I posted this response:
Dear anonymous gay Scoutmaster currently serving in Chief Seattle Council,
Thank you so much for sharing your story. The voices of the oppressed, in their oppression, help us all understand the continuing need for reform.
The pillars of discrimination in Chief Seattle Council have changed from last year, and its foundations have eroded. Specifically Sharon Moulds is no longer Scout Executive. And the President of BSA has said he will not de-charter councils who refuse to follow the discrimination policies of National. And the district executive of your district may have changed.
Because of those changes it may be that an out gay scoutmaster in BSA, with the full support of his Charter Organization can successfully change the discriminatory practices of Chief Seattle Council and end the shame the continuing discrimination practiced by these scouts in our town brings upon us all. Coming out is required in order to change the practices, and support and defense by the Council is required in order to change the opinion of the community.
Harvey Milk famously said "Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out." Your bravery is what changes matters for yourself, your troop, your district and your Council.
If you find that Chief Seattle Council fails again to live up to the ideals expressed in the Scout Oath and Law, you will not be alone. Many others in this community will stand by and defend you. Our hearts and hands are outstretched towards you. And there are other scouting organizations who will welcome you around their campfire: specifically Baden-Powell Service Association seeks brave men and women such as yourself to continue bringing traditional scouting values to the next generation, equally to all.
Coming out is for the sake of all youngsters. Coming out frees straight scouts from the embarrassment they currently feel as participants in oppressing others. And for the gay scouts and their families it creates a world free from the fear of discrimination, exclusion, excommunication and shame. It is 2015. It is time to come out.

Friday, February 20, 2015

BSA Cub Scout Enrollment Declines 8.5% in 2014

I've never heard of an inclusive Klan registry. But I have heard of an inclusive BSA registry (link below). It is curious that not a single current unit, charter organization, district, nor council is listed in the inclusive BSA registry.

When I've asked BSA volunteers who claim their unit or council is inclusive, but who are not listed in the registry, I've gotten various unsatisfying answers as to why their unit is special and cannot be listed.

So here we remain, it is 2015, no BSA units are certifiably inclusive, and none (that I know of) are working towards certification.

Meantime, nation-wide cub numbers declined 8.5% from 1,416,000 to 1,295,000 (source unavailable for attribution, change in membership 2013-2014), this during a year when the leadership emphasized a focus on cub scout membership.

Can one be ethical and moral and still be a member of BSA? I think one can, but it does require some hard work, which begins with an honest assessment quickly followed by action. Scouting isn't so much about "being" -- these marketing slogans ("be a cub(tm)" and "be a scout(tm)") get in the way of "doing," which is more to the point of scouting. Doing non-discrimination is significantly different from "hoping" and/or "waiting" for it.

The Civil Rights movements of the past taught us many things. The most important being that it doesn't happen by wishing; it requires hard work and pressure tactics. Nice doesn't get it done. It requires dreams supported by actions.

Here is the link I promised:

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: Here is the reponse from Superintendent Enfield:
Highline Public Schools
Ambaum Boulevard Southwest
Burien, Washington 98166

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.

Susan Enfield, Ed. D.
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:

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..

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?