John Johnston reports:
A group of youngsters has gathered in a park for an introduction to camping.
Adult leaders guide them through the do’s and don’ts of backpacking, then assist as the kids practice pitching tents. To top it off, everyone gets a taste of that campout staple, s’mores.
Their smiles say the kids are enjoying the scouting experience. But these are Navigators, not Boy Scouts. If they were Scouts, Brad Frey couldn’t be a co-leader.
The Mason resident, a former Eagle Scout, is gay.
He has long wanted to be a Boy Scout leader but has been unable to get back into the organization “because there wasn’t acceptance there.”
- Photos: Mason Navigators chapter
This week the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays. An 11-member special committee formed in 2010 concluded that the policy “reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members…”
However, the Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, did acknowledge in a statement that “we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”
It’s perhaps a way of saying that the issue will be raised again, as it has a number of times since 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts can bar gays from being troop leaders.
“Are there some out there who say, ‘I won’t be part of the Boy Scouts because of this position?’ Yes. Are there others who say, ‘I want to be part of the Boy Scouts?’ Yes,” said Tom Dugger, the scout executive/CEO of the Boy Scouts’ Dan Beard Council, which has a membership of about 35,000 youth in 12 Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky counties.
Nationally, participation in traditional Boy Scout programs has declined by about 15 percent in the past decade. But Dugger said that reflects the stiff competition scouting faces from many other youth activities, rather than dissatisfaction with Boy Scout policy.
Parents, kids debate gay ban
Still, some parents are taking a stand.
“My wife and I decided we wouldn’t even consider letting our son join the Scouts unless their ban (on gays) was lifted and the organization was more accepting of all individuals,” Rodger Pille, a former Scout from Hamilton County’s Miami Township, said in an email.
His son, at age 4, is still too young for Scouts. But when he’s a bit older, Pille said, the topic will provide a teachable moment on the importance of diversity.
Others are adamant that the policy shouldn’t change.
“It would be really unfortunate if this good, solid, wholesome tradition that has been going on now for a century would be subverted,” said Ed Valeska. The Delhi Township resident was a Scout in the 1950s.
John Myers of Springdale also was a Scout in that era and has financially supported the Dan Beard Council. He said he would “disown” the organization if it opened up to gays.
“To expose my children or grandchildren to a homosexual leader of a troop, in my opinion, would be a very poor choice. I don’t think they need that exposure.”
But Eagle Scout Michael Montalbano, 17, of Loveland sees that view as “kind of old-fashioned. I think people are a little bit afraid of change.”
He said he’d have no problem having a gay Scout leader.
His mother, Anne, said, “I think people still have confusion between someone who’s gay and someone who’s a pedophile. It’s not the same thing, and I wouldn’t personally have a concern.”
A Scout troop, she noted, is only as good as its leaders – and if qualified people want to teach young people useful skills, “you need to use them.”
Navigators provides new scouting option
Ed Scheid said the exclusionary policy of the Boy Scouts toward gays and non-religious people led him, Frey and a group of parents in April to start a local chapter of Navigators USA. Scheid said his son couldn’t continue in Cub Scouts because he is an agnostic.
Navigators, which is open to boys and girls ages 6-18, was founded in New York in 2003 and in the past year has increased the number of chapters from four to 23. The local chapter, which has about 20 youngsters, is sponsored by Harmony Unitarian Universalist Church in Mason. It’s the only chapter in Ohio. Kentucky has none.
“A lot of the families feel strongly that they want to be in a place where everyone is accepted no matter what their sexuality, and no matter what their (religious) beliefs are, as well,” said Lindsey Sodano.
Her 7-year-old son, J.R., is among the kids who learned about camping at Mason’s Pine Hill Lakes Park on a recent Friday.
When he was 5, J.R. asked his parents why he couldn’t be a Boy Scout. They explained that the organization is “kind of picky” about who it lets in.
He told his mother he wanted to start a new scouting group, and call it Everyone Allowed.