Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Offer from BSA

Sometimes it is difficult to understand how institutional anti-gay bias (technical term for this is institutional homophobia) works, but the lessons of the last five weeks in Rainier Beach have shown a light on aspects of this.

Troop 98 began forming in the summer of 2013. It was intended at its inception to be a fully inclusive troop, in both the youth and adult membership. It started out as an idea born in our community, as a way to bring after-school program opportunities to youth in our under-served, diverse neighborhood. A committee was formed and we agreed to be fully inclusive in our membership requirements on the question of sexual orientation, discussing the label "LGBTQS" (where "S" stands for "Straight" and implies we're all on the same equality boat together, not on different boats) and our commitment to skills and values training, as well as our commitment to providing service to the community. The idea of the Troop was adopted by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the congregation that I attend, and became the core of their new youth ministry. I was asked to be their Youth Leader (which is funny, because while at 49 I'm not old, still I'm not a youth!). Thus was born Troop 98. Next step was to achieve a partnership to provide program materials, branding and uniforms to our Troop.

Our committee reviewed several options, and agreed to explore partnering with the BSA first. We selected BSA because our committee members consisted of Eagle Scouts and had deep experience with the BSA programming. Additionally, we were encouraged by the vote taken in May 2013 anticipating a membership policy change to begin including LGBTQ people. We reasoned that BSA might be willing to experiment with us even ahead of the policy change, and in meeting with them we were gratified to find they agreed, granting us a Charter in the Fall of 2013.

Fast forward to today (5/10/2014). It has been three weeks since the charter for Troop 98 and Pack 98 to use the program materials was revoked, and five weeks since my lifetime membership in BSA was revoked. Which puts the troop back into its operating position that we had prior to having a Charter back in the fall.

Since that time, while I was out of town, connections between members of Troop 98 leadership and Council have been maintained, and options were developed by BSA to re-establish a chartered presence in Rainier Beach. The negotiations resulted in a phone call to me, followed by a meeting at my house after Thunderbird District Meeting on Wednesday 5/7/2014. The results of the phone call were documented in an e-mail back to BSA personnel--and were reviewed in the meeting that night. Here is the relevant portion:
Thank you for your communications to me today. By way of summary, we discussed the possibility of Troop 98, which is currently operating unaffiliated with the BSA, establishing a new Charter with the BSA, but with the following provisions [recommended by BSA]:
  1. It would be formed by the parents, under a rubric such as "Concerned Parents for Equal Scouting"
  2. It could include all persons who were in the old Troop Charter established in the Fall of 2013, with the exception that Geoffrey McGrath and Monica Corsaro must not be on the application.
  3. That two new adults would have to be identified and added to the charter documents, that they must pass the BSA requirements, and must also not be "out" as gays or lesbians, at least as far as BSA is concerned.
  4. The charter application would have an address of record elsewhere than the current address of RBUMC at 5500 S Roxbury St.
  5. The Troop could maintain its current designation as Troop 98. Likewise for the Pack as Pack 98.
  6. That as to the day-to-day operation of Troop 98 and Pack 98, there need otherwise be no change--where meetings are actually held makes no never-mind to anyone outside of the units in question, and the parents could have whomever actually leading the program completely up to them--the paperwork is the only thing in question, and the goal would be to have clean paperwork that would pass Council and National's review.
  7. It wasn't stated, but presumably there would be an expectation that any non-parent gay adult participation would be kept on the down-low. That gay parents could fully participate but could not be formal Adult Leader members of BSA.
I think this pretty much outlines your thoughts about how to do this--of course once the anti-gay policies change at National BSA then there would be no restriction to LGBT participation from that point on. Hopefully at that point the ban on Pastor Monica and myself would also be lifted.
Have I missed any particular point? If so please clarify and/or expand. Also perhaps we should think about how this would likely play out in the months to come. I do have some concerns, including that this is a fairly complicated and hard-to-explain protocol, that it is flimsy cover in the event things end up in the press again, and I'm unclear the new Charter would enjoy better support and defense from Council or National than the old. So help me understand.
In the meeting the BSA personnel agreed this was was a fair representation of their offer. I indicated that relationship damage between Pastor Monica Corsaro and BSA caused by the interferance in her staffing decision and the resulting Charter revocation would require immediate attention, and that for discussions to continue she would of course have to be included. I suggested it might take us several weeks to several months before we could arrive at an agreeable solution to the current situation, and requested patience and forbearance during our deliberations and future negotiations.

Due to the lateness of the hour the meeting ended with certain mutual commitments--to stay engaged, to seek protection from claims of misuse of BSA intellectual property in relation to my wearing of the uniform, and to maintain a collegial atmosphere and respectful communications. Additionally BSA personnel agreed a neckerchief slide would be secured to be presented to one of our immigrant youth who had lost his.

We remain hopeful that something can be worked out to our mutual satisfaction, and that if we all work carefully and with full consideration of each others needs and concerns that the good will and effective inter-operation between the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church with it's Youth Ministry can be worked out with the Thunderbird District and the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Pending resolution, Troop 98 and Pack 98 continue to grow, welcoming two kids new to the program last week. The youngest kids aren't impacted by the disruption introduced by BSA at all, and the older kids are already anticipating the possibility of a uniform and program change should negotiations fail with BSA. All of us remain dedicated to providing the best program we know how (and we know a  lot!), and the kids are fully engaged in planning for their next outings and honing their wilderness and community service skills.