Friday, August 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES When Gloria Johnson learned that a group of Eagle Scouts was about to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention, she immediately went into action.
She and other California delegates grabbed poster board and markers and made signs that read, “We Support Gay Boy Scouts.” As the uniformed Scouts took part in the opening ceremony, the delegates, seated in the front of the hall, waved their signs and booed.
Under normal circumstances, jeering at children is the sort of behavior that might get a delegate sanctioned, if not booted from the convention altogether. But anyone who expected the Democratic leadership to scold the Boy Scouts of America bashers is attending the wrong convention.
Support for homosexual rights has become an integral part of the Democratic orthodoxy, as unassailable as the party’s pro-choice or civil rights planks. Since the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts can ban homosexual leaders, the Democrats have sided squarely with homosexuals in condemning the decision.
Indeed, Democratic National Committee spokesman Rick Hess was careful to avoid criticizing either the Boy Scouts or the delegates, instead stressing that the party is staunchly committed to homosexual rights.
Most Democrats support the work the Boy Scouts do,” said Mr. Hess. “At the same time, we want to see gays and lesbians treated with respect. Democrats across the board support equal rights for gays and lesbians and we want to make sure they’re not discriminated against.”
The Boy Scouts, meanwhile, were shocked by the negative reception. The Los Angeles Council of Boy Scouts sent a half-dozen Eagle Scouts and an adult leader to the event at the request of Democratic organizers, said council spokesman Joey Robinson.
“I think whatever the national policy is, the kids don’t set the policy. When you boo the policy, you’re booing the kids,” said Mr. Robinson.
Fortunately, he said, the Staples Center was so noisy during the Tuesday night ceremony that none of the boys heard the booing, although the adult leader did.
Delegates who participated in protesting the Boy Scouts yesterday said they had nothing against the boys, but wanted to send a message to the Democratic Party for inviting the Scouts.
“Of course, we’re not against the kids it isn’t about them,” said California delegate Craig Christensen. “But there were groups that could have been picked that haven’t been so blatantly discriminatory… . It was a thoughtless thing to do.”
Alex Mallonee, a California delegate who didn’t participate in the demonstration, said he sympathized with the homosexual delegates.
“I think it was odd that they had the Boy Scouts up there, given the situation,” he said. “It was pretty insensitive.”
This year’s convention has almost twice as many homosexual delegates as the 1996 gathering, thanks to recruiting efforts by the national party. Mr. Christensen said there are 212 openly homosexual delegates at this year’s convention, up from 125 four years ago.
Delegates give credit to the DNC, which instructed state parties to work on making their delegations reflect their states’ minority composition. For many states, that meant setting “targets,” which are different from quotas, Democrats insisted.
When states submit their delegation plans, the DNC asks them to have their delegations look as much like their voters as possible,” said Mr. Hess. “This is wholly different from quotas this is Colin Powell-type recruitment.”
In California, that meant setting “targets” of 5 percent homosexual men and 5 percent homosexual women. The California delegation ended up with 34 openly homosexual delegates, the largest concentration of any state.
Delegate Jeri Dilno said the state party would have appointed homosexual delegates if the caucuses fell short of those goals. “A friend of mine was appointed that way the last time [in 1996],” she said.
The Georgia delegation also set a goal of 5 percent and met it by electing five openly homosexual delegates out of 105, said delegate Annette Hatton.
Wisconsin delegate Jane Fee, 73, who was born a man but has been taking female hormones and dressing like a woman for the past dozen years, said he “came as part of the female quota.” But since he never had a sex-change operation, he acknowledged he fulfills the Democratic sex quotas all by himself.
“Actually, the diversity that we show in the Democratic Party, whether it’s by quota or not, indicates that we really are interested in having all of America represented by the party,” said Mr. Fee, a father and grandfather who used to be known as James.
As for the Boy Scouts, Miss Hatton added that she never heard any booing during the ceremony, although other delegates and news accounts reported booing.
Michael Perez, chairman of the National Stonewall Democratic Federation, called the protesters “very supportive of the kids.”
“We’re 100 percent behind the kids,” said Mr. Perez. “We don’t agree with what their establishment came up with. There are gay Boy Scouts out there, and we want them to know we support them.”
Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican, didn’t see it that way. “The Boy Scouts are revered by most people,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that reflects badly on the Democratic Party.”
Bill Sammon contributed to this report.

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