- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Homosexual rights groups kicked off a national campaign against the Boy Scouts of America yesterday to force the private organization to rescind its policy barring homosexuals from acting as troop leaders.

The groups plan to use laws enacted by state and local governments that ban discrimination against homosexuals to limit Boy Scout troops' access to public funding and use of public facilities.

Rallies against the Boy Scouts took place in at least 36 cities and 21 states as part of the nationwide protest. A small group of activists some dressed in Boy Scout uniforms was turned away from the organization's national headquarters in Irving, Texas, yesterday after presenting a 55,000-signature petition protesting the policy.

In Washington, about 30 protesters gathered outside the regional headquarters in Bethesda, Md., to call for an end to what they call a "discriminatory policy."

"We wanted to add pressure to the Boy Scouts and let local Scout troops know they can write their own charter" that allows homosexuals to lead young boys, said John Schuppan, a local organizer with Scouting For All, which sponsored dozens of demonstrations across the country yesterday.

In the greater metropolitan area, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will target several jurisdictions Maryland, the District of Columbia, Montgomery, Prince George's (Md.) and Arlington (Va.) counties, and the city of Alexandria (Va.) that already have laws that prohibit certain forms of discrimination against homosexuals.

"What's coming down the pike is that local governments will have to deal with the privileges and access they give to Scout groups" such as funding, public parks and even the use of their names, said group spokesman Graham Segroves.

If the Scouts don't comply, the homosexuals hope churches, civic associations and governments will revoke their support, he said.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that Boy Scouts can bar homosexuals from serving as troop leaders. The ruling may also permit the 6.2-million-member private organization to reject homosexuals as members.

The Boys Scouts consider homosexuality contrary to their oath requiring scouts to be "morally straight."

Boy Scouts officials, responding to the protests, said the organization respects the rights of those who disagree with their stand.

"We stress that we are a private organization and that no one is forced to be a Boy Scout," said Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, in Texas. "People who share our values and beliefs are welcome to join."

Members of the protest group that rallied in Bethesda said they also want the Boy Scouts to amend their rules to allow avowed atheists in leadership positions.

Both positions conflict with the Scout Oath and Law, which call for members and leaders to be "morally straight," "clean," and to do his "duty to God," according to Boy Scouts officials.

Homosexual activists already scored one victory in gaining the support of Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who called the Scouts' policy "outrageous and divisive" at a rally in Baltimore last month.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which is based in the District, is collaborating with Scouting For All by sharing their network of local activists to put pressure on Scout sponsors and local troops, Mr. Segroves said.

The homosexual activists also are urging local troops to splinter from the national council and write their own charters, even if it means being decommissioned, Mr. Segroves said.

The motivation for Mr. Segroves who wore his Eagle Scout uniform to yesterday's protest is to improve the Boy Scouts of America, he said.

"I love Scouting," he said. "It's an organization and activity I want to become stronger and better. The way to do that is not to exclude people."

Like Mr. Segroves, several of the protesters in Bethesda yesterday were Scouts or former Scouts.

Alexander Anneker of Alexandria said the Scouts was "a good experience" and helped him develop "moral, social and leadership skills," but "now that they have a position of no gays with no substantial reason, it seems wrong."

Mr. Anneker, 18, is on the board of directors of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, an organization that provides counseling, recreation and education services to homosexual youths in the metro area.

The protests also are another sign of the hostility the political left is directing at the Boy Scouts.

When a group of Eagle Scouts took part in an opening ceremony at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles last week, several California delegates seated in the front of he hall hastily made derogatory signs and booed them.

Support for homosexual rights has become an integral part of the Democratic Party orthodoxy, as unassailable as the party's pro-choice or civil rights planks. DNC officials took no action against the delegates.

DNC spokesman Rick Hess said the party is staunchly committed to homosexual rights. "Most Democrats support the work the Boy Scouts do. 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."

This year's convention had almost twice as many homosexual delegates as the 1996 gathering, thanks to recruiting efforts by the national party. Mr. Christensen said there were 212 openly homosexual delegates at this year's convention, up from 125 four years ago.

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