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Cub pack faces loss of sponsor over anti-gay policy

Friday, January 12, 2001

By Eleanor Chute, Post-Gazette Education Writer

St. Edmund's Academy in Squirrel Hill likely won't sponsor a Cub Scout pack this fall unless the Boy Scouts of America changes its anti-gay policy.

The Boy Scout policy says that homosexuals cannot be "morally straight," as required by the Boy Scout code. The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that the Boy Scouts were within their rights when they ousted an assistant scoutmaster in New Jersey because he was gay.

St. Edmund's headmaster David Blanchard, a former Cub Scout and Boy Scout, said the position of the Boy Scouts of America doesn't fit with the school's own statement of diversity.

The policy states that diversity -- in race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics -- provides "richness and meaning" and is to be encouraged at St. Edmund's, a nondenominational school with Episcopal roots.

Organizations that charter Boy Scout groups must provide an appropriate space and agree to operate under the national rules.

"We do not believe that we can, in good faith, agree to do something that is inconsistent with our stated values," the school's newsletter stated.

If the Boy Scouts don't make changes, Blanchard expects that the school will stop sponsoring a pack.

Amy Franz, director of finance and marketing for the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said charters are renewed annually. She knows of no local Scout groups who have lost their chartering organization over the gay issue.

The council covers about 900 scouting units and serves about 47,000 youth in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, Exploring and Learning for Life. She said about 9 percent of the units are chartered to schools. Some also meet in schools but have other sponsoring organizations.

Brad Myers of Point Breeze, cubmaster of Pack 47 at St. Edmund's, said, "We have lots of other places that are interested in hosting us."

He said the pack has 39 children from 13 schools, including five from St. Edmund's.

"I think the pack, Cub Scouts in general, helps give the kids something they won't get anywhere else," Myers said.

Blanchard, too, praised the work of the Scouts. "Our kids have gotten wonderful benefits from them for years and years and years. We certainly support the Boy Scouts' right to make whatever decision they want about their organization."

Patrice Walter of Morningside, secretary of the board of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network of Pittsburgh, hopes the Boy Scouts "will come to see there's value in everyone being able to participate in this program regardless of sexual orientation."

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In a memo to congregations this month, the Reform Jewish movement asked Jewish families and synagogues to cut ties with the organization. That posed a possible conflict for Myers, a Reform Jew who belongs to the Rodef Shalom congregation.

Myers said he respects the movement's leaders and their opinions but said, "The nice thing about the Reform movement is it's very much founded on the principles of individual choice."

The Reform Jewish movement's Joint Commission on Social Action called the Scouts' policy "incompatible with our consistent belief that every individual -- regardless of sexual orientation -- is created in the image of God and deserving of equal treatment."

Rabbi Mark Staitman of Rodef Shalom synagogue in Shadyside said he is "fully supportive" of the movement's statement but said it will have little impact within his congregation.

Staitman, who plans to speak out in his synagogue on the matter, said, "We believe it's immoral to belong to an organization which discriminates against people because of their sexual preference. We would see participating in Boy Scouting as something that people ought not to do."

In other local schools, there has been little, if any controversy over the Boy Scouts.

Lynn Turnquist, city school spokeswoman, said the issue hasn't come up. Scout meetings are conducted in some city schools.

The Rev. Kris Stubna, secretary for education for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said many schools have long-standing relationships with the Boy Scouts and will continue to do so.

"We would be concerned about denying hundreds and hundreds of kids to have an opportunity to be part of something that is beneficial," he said.

Reactions to the Boy Scouts' position have varied across the country.

In Broward County, Fla., the school board wanted to evict the Boy Scouts from schools, but the Scouts sued. That case is pending.

"We simply ask to be treated like any other community organization, a not-for-profit organization," said Boy Scouts of America spokesman Gregg Shields.

Last fall, an anonymous donor, noting reports of a backlash against the Boy Scouts for its anti-gay policies, gave $1.5 million to Boy Scout operations in the Greater Pittsburgh and Westmoreland-Fayette councils.



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