- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Activists for homosexuals have battled publicly with the Boy Scouts of America for nearly two decades over the Scouts' ban on homosexual leaders, and membership in the Scouts has climbed as the conflict has intensified.
"During the last three years, we've grown by 7 percent," said Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts, which finished last year with 6.2 million members 5 million youths and 1.2 million adults.
"The net result is that we're approaching record-high membership… . We're doing very well, thank you," Mr. Shields said in a recent telephone interview from his office in Dallas.
He noted that the last time the Boy Scouts had nearly 5 million youth members was back in the early 1970s, when rolls reached about 4.6 million.
The Boy Scouts' membership has grown during a three-year period when there has been much public focus on its policy barring homosexuals, as a result of major developments in a lawsuit. The suit was brought by James Dale, a former New Jersey troop leader, who was kicked out of the Scouts in 1990 after his homosexuality was discovered.
The case ended in June, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts a private organization has the legal right to bar homosexual leaders.
Membership growth in the Boy Scouts has been particularly strong in the heavily homosexual San Francisco area.
"Our membership went up 13.7 percent last year and 14 percent the year before that, for a 28 percent rise in just two years," said Steve Barnes, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which includes more than 46,300 juveniles.
"We're the fastest-growing metro council in America," Mr. Barnes added.
There's been strong growth in Scouting in San Francisco and elsewhere, despite the fact that the Lambda Legal Defense Fund and other homosexual rights advocacy groups have urged young people and their parents to turn to other youth groups that "do not discriminate" on the basis of sexual orientation.
The groups have stepped up these calls since the June 28 Supreme Court ruling in the Dale case. They have identified the Boys and Girls Clubs, the National 4-H Council, the Campfire Boys and Girls, and the Girl Scouts as acceptable alternatives. Boys, however, cannot join the Girl Scouts, just as girls cannot join the Cubs and Boy Scouts. Both girls and boys can join the Explorers.
Asked why he believes the anti-Boy Scout message is not registering with families in San Francisco, where homosexuals wield significant political influence, Mr. Barnes said, "It's because parents recognize the Scouting program has value for their children."
Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, agrees. "We're not a recreation program. Our mission is to help people's character grow and to make ethical decisions. The Boy Scouts does not expect everyone to agree with our values and beliefs … but we feel strongly parents want" their children exposed to the "kinds of things the Boy Scouts are teaching."
As for why homosexuals are not welcome in the Boy Scouts, Mr. Shields said the Boy Scout oath calls for members to be "morally straight." He pointed out that adults who serve as Boy Scout leaders are also members of the group and must take the oath.
"An avowed homosexual is not a role model for the Boy Scout oath. So we do not extend membership to homosexuals," he said.
Homosexual critics of the Boy Scouts have had some success in getting several dozen private corporations, foundations, charities, public school systems or municipal governments either to end their support for the Boy Scouts or to consider ending it, in light of the group's policy against gays.
"Over the past two decades, some people have disagreed with the Boy Scouts [on this issue] and stopped their funding. Levi Strauss & Company stopped back in 1992. But there have always been other groups to replace those that withdrew their support," said Mr. Shields.
Lambda Legal Defense Fund keeps a list on its Web site www.lambdalegal.org of groups and government entities it says have either ended financial support or property arrangements they had with the Boy Scouts or are considering doing so. The list includes eight United Way chapters that have already defunded the Boy Scouts three in California (San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz) and others in New Haven, Conn., Portland, Maine; Somerset County, N.J.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and southeastern New England.
Lambda also identifies four religious organizations the United Methodists, the Episcopalians, Reform Jews and Unitarians it says have passed resolutions condemning the Boy Scouts' policy.
The pro-homosexual legal group also cites various public school systems, such as San Francisco and Oakland, and municipal governments, such as Chicago, that have discontinued former arrangements they had with the Boy Scouts. Chicago ended its sponsorship of 28 different Explorers groups after being named in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1996.
Boy Scout officials suggest some of Lambda's information is now irrelevant. Mr. Barnes of the San Francisco Bay Area Council said San Francisco and Oakland public schools denied Scout troops use of their facilities eight years ago. "We lost 15,000 members at that time. But we've made that back and more" and found alternate facilities, he said.
Some of Lambda's information is incorrect. For instance, its Web site says the San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., the nation's seventh largest bank, pulled its donations to the Boy Scouts.
But Larry Haeg, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, said the bank made that decision way back in 1992. He said that policy remained in effect until 1998, when Wells Fargo merged with another bank, the Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis. "Norwest saw a need to decentralize decision-making, and it was agreed to let local bank presidents decide if they want to donate to the Boy Scouts," said Mr. Haeg. He was unable to say how many do or do not make such contributions today.
"And we have made no funding decisions regarding the Boy Scouts as a result of the Supreme Court decision," he added.
Lambda has also listed Chase Manhattan Bank among the institutions that have withdrawn their financial support from the Boy Scouts. However, Chase spokesman Jim Finn announced Thursday that the bank will continue its support. Withdrawing it, the bank said, "would be harmful to thousands of children." Mr. Finn said Chase Manhattan contributes $200,000 to the Boy Scouts annually.

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