- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

One year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had the right to bar homosexual leaders, a number of groups are still actively lobbying to try to get the Scouts to change its policy.
The list includes legal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, and other homosexual rights advocacy organizations, the National Education Association, a 3-year-old group called Scouting for All, and the presidents or boards of at least nine big-city Boy Scouts councils.
"Being gay should not disqualify someone from serving as a member or a leader of the Boy Scouts. … The Boy Scouts policy is discriminatory and deprives gay people from participating in an important American institution," said David Smith, spokesman for the HRC, the nation's largest homosexual political organization.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Smith and HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch took part in a televised debate on the issue with conservative talk show host Oliver North and a lawyer for the Boy Scouts.
The debate on MSNBC aired two days before the first anniversary of the split Supreme Court decision in the case of BSA v. James Dale. In its 5-4 opinion a year ago today, the high court found that because the Boy Scouts is a private organization, it had the right to set its own moral code and ban homosexual leaders and members.
The ruling was a victory for the Boy Scouts. But, to date, at least 359 school districts in 10 states have taken action against the Boy Scouts because of the ban, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN.).
"And something over 40 United Ways have defunded the Boy Scouts because of its policy," said Dave Rice, head of the California-based Scouting for All, which has 7,000 members.
The Boy Scouts says it does not bar homosexual youths, only adults. "There's never been a case of a youth member being kicked out because he's gay. If a youth has questions about his sexual orientation, he would be told to talk with his parents or with church leaders. … No one would ask him to leave," says Brett Beck, spokesman for the Orange County (Calif.) Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Groups working to overturn the Boy Scouts policy have gained wider support by focusing on the threat they say the policy poses to homosexual youth.
"There's been unprecedented movement by non-gays to address the Boy Scouts discrimination. We've never seen anything like it," said David Buckel, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal Defense, which represented James Dale in his legal fight with the Boy Scouts. Mr. Dale became a scoutmaster at age 18, but the Boy Scouts expelled him after learning he headed a homosexual group at Rutgers University. He sued.
Mark LaFontaine, a Florida homosexual who helped influence efforts by public schools in Broward County to prohibit use of facilities by Boy Scouts, said he was concerned about the possible effect on youths.
"I am 34 and an Eagle Scout, and I could not accept the fact that the Boy Scouts has a policy that could hurt youth in the community. I couldn't sit back and let that happen," Mr. LaFontaine said yesterday in a telephone interview.
The Broward County school board's diversity committee looked at the Boy Scouts ban on homosexual leaders, he said, but took no action because there had been no complaints. So Mr. LaFontaine made himself a test case and "applied for a leadership position" with a local troop in the Fort Lauderdale area and was turned down, he said.
Late last year, he took his story to the full board. The school board cut its ties with 57 Scout troops, and the Scouts sued, claiming the school board had violated the Scouts' free speech rights. In March, a judge issued an injunction, preventing the board from ousting the Boy Scouts.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed an amendment that would bar federal funds for schools that deny equal access to the Boy Scouts. The House has passed a similar bill.
Mr. Smith of HRC said his 400,000-member organization lobbied hard to kill both measures. But he insists most of the actions against the Boy Scouts in the past year have been "spontaneous and organic," not the result of pressure groups.
"To my knowledge, nobody's been on the phone, calling the United Way, churches, school systems," or corporations, urging them to cut off the Boy Scouts, he said yesterday.
But Jim Anderson, spokesman for GLSEN, acknowledges that group's 90 chapters have campaigned to get local public school systems that sponsor Boy Scout troops to end those affiliations. "We're not taking issue with the Scouts right to equal access. We say schools should not be running discriminatory programs," he said.
The ACLU, which assisted Lambda Legal Defense in the Dale case, is involved in some suits to end what it calls "special treatment" of the Boy Scouts.
Early this month, the presidents of nine of the Boy Scouts' more than 300 councils urged the Boy Scouts to change their policy on homosexuals. They included presidents of the New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Minneapolis councils.
The National Education Association has also gotten involved in the fray. Delegates to its Representative Assembly adopted a proposal calling for the teachers organization to "urge state and local affiliates to work with school boards to establish policies requiring that all private organizations using school facilities have nondiscriminatory membership policies."

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