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!