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For some Scouts, it's time to take a hike

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Correction/Clarification (Published Dec. 26, 2000): An Aug. 29 story, as well as an editorial Aug. 31 and a column by Sally Kalson on Sept. 20, on a Boy Scouts' policy barring gay leaders said incorrectly that "dozens" of United Way chapters nationwide had withdrawn funding from the Scouts in protest of the policy. The correct number at the time was about a dozen. The story also misstated two cities' reactions to the ban. Chicago no longer lets the Boy Scouts use parks, city buildings and schools without charge. The public schools of San Francisco no longer sponsor Scout recruitment drives or other programs during school hours. The Scouts are not barred from using parks, schools and other sites. The article also misstated the timing of those restrictions. They began before the Supreme Court upheld the ban in June, not afterward.

The Boy Scouts of America has established its legal status beyond any doubt. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is a private organization, entitled to exclude anyone whose presence it believes undermines its bedrock principles -- in this case, a gay scoutmaster who was never accused of any wrongdoing.

Now the organization is paying the price for its victory. Dozens of United Way chapters have stopped funding Boy Scout activities -- the Allegheny County chapter will continue to fund three programs for at-risk populations -- as have some corporate and philanthropic supporters. Some churches and schools have barred troop meetings from their facilities, and some Eagle Scouts have mailed back their badges in protest.

The next logical question: What are local Boy Scout groups that oppose the national policy going to do about it? Secede?

Don't laugh -- it's been done before. Right here, in fact, in 1980, when the Pittsburgh Jaycees broke ranks with the national organization over admitting women.

The renegade group renamed itself Vectors, meaning a positive force or influence. Two decades later, it is a thriving, highly respected service organization of men and women that performs countless good works throughout the region.

Jay McCann of Imperial remembers the birth of Vectors as if it were yesterday. He was 24 at the time, and soon to become the organization's president.

The seeds of the split were planted in the mid-1970s, when the Jaycees introduced a pilot program to admit women. The idea took root quickly in Pittsburgh, and within a few years the chapter was equal parts male and female. But other chapters were not so welcoming.

Under pressure, the national Jaycees decreed the end of the pilot program in 1979. Integrated chapters were told to expel their female members. Pittsburgh and a handful of others refused and went to court.

The chapter voted unanimously to ignore the Jaycees' edict and force the national to revoke its charter. The Jaycees obliged, and local members greeted their ouster with a standing ovation.

Vectors quickly went international, joined by ex-Jaycees chapters in Toronto, Baltimore, Chicago, Rochester, N.Y., Cincinnati and Des Moines, Iowa.

Then, in 1984, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit won their case. The Supreme Court decreed that the Jaycees had to admit women. A delegation came to town to invite Vectors back into the fold.

"I'll never forget that meeting," said McCann. "This guy gets up in front of 150 members and says, 'If we had known you women were so pretty, we wouldn't have thrown you out.' We weren't going to rejoin anyway, but that sealed it."

The overture was unanimously rejected, and Vectors members today consider themselves a stronger, more effective organization for having insisted 20 years ago on making use of every willing heart and hand.

McCann, as it happens, was also a Boy Scout -- vice chief of the Order of the Arrow, in fact. He cannot understand what sexual orientation has to do with scouting, any more than gender has to do with community service.

"I don't get it," he said. "Do they think it's contagious? What are they so afraid of? And where do they draw the line? Can you be a scoutmaster if you do or don't believe in abortion, or if you do or don't go to church? The worst part is that they suck the kids into it. That makes for tough stereotypes in the future."

What advice would he offer to any scout troops that might decide to secede and form their own, nondiscriminatory organization?

"Be prepared," he said, echoing the scout motto. "We saw the clouds forming for a couple of years, so we had time to build an organization. You have to learn how to do all the stuff that the national did for you. But learning it is half the fun.

"The battle had its ugly moments," McCann conceded. "But having won it, we made something great happen. The real payment is seeing a kid smile who hasn't smiled in months. It makes you realize how ridiculous all this political stuff is compared to the good you can do when everyone works together."

So if any Boy Scout troops are out there wondering where to turn, the Vectors' story may provide some inspiration. What's been done once can be done again -- if the will is there and, of course, you make sure to: Be prepared.


Sally Kalson's e-mail is:skalson@post-gazette.com



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