Over 125 Rally Against Boy Scouts in Balboa Park

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Sunday, Sep. 02, 2001 at 7:52 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

Over 125 local activists rallied in Balboa Park Sunday, August 19 to demand that the city stop supporting the anti-Queer, anti-atheist Boy Scouts of America by giving them 18.5 acres of city parkland for a nominal $1 per year. The Scouts' leases expire in 2007 and 2008, but the Scouts and their supporters on the current City Council want to renew them now.

errorOver 125 Rally Against Boy Scouts in Balboa Park
Former Scouts Call On Organization to Honor Its Own Ideals

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright 2001 by Zengers Newsmagazine Used by permission

There is nowhere in the Scout Handbook and believe me, Ive read many of them that says that a Scout is not Gay, or that being Gay is immoral, said Howard Menzer, head of San Diegos chapter of Scouting for All, at a rally outside the Boy Scouts of Americas (BSA) campground in Balboa Park August 19. Because thats the line theyre using, and that is so dead wrong.

Menzer was one of eight speakers, four of them former Boy Scouts, who spoke to about 125 people at the rally. The event was part of a nationwide mobilization, timed to counter the Boy Scouts own national celebrations, to oppose the Boy Scouts exclusion of Gay and Bisexual youth and adults, and to demand that cities like San Diego stop subsidizing the Boy Scouts by giving them city property. The Boy Scouts currently operate on 18.5 acres of parkland owned by the city of San Diego, in Balboa Park and also on Fiesta Island, for which they pay a nominal $1 per year. Their lease expires in 2007, but Mayor Dick Murphy and others on the current City Council, including Second District Councilmember Byron Wear, want to renew it now.

Several speakers mentioned that thered been a similar event on the same site last year and only six people had showed up. Since then, however, on March 14, 2001 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America were a private organization with a First Amendment constitutional right to include or exclude whomever they want. The Court based its ruling on the idea that the Scouts are a private organization whose members have the freedom of association right to include only people with like-minded views, including the view that homosexuality is inherently immoral and runs counter to the Scouts call for its members to be morally straight and clean.

Attorney M. E. Stephens, who is representing two local San Diego families in a suit against the city over the Scouts lease of public parkland, said the Supreme Courts decision is the law of the land, the law that we have to live with. But that decision does not give the city government the right to discriminate against you. That decision did not allow Mayor Murphy and the City Council to ignore the United States Constitution, the California Constitution and the Human Dignity Ordinance [San Diegos municipal code forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation] by providing this public parkland to an actively discriminatory organization.

Gay former Eagle Scout Joshua Rapp said he had been involved in Scouting from age eight to 18. I used to enjoy telling people that I was an Eagle Scout, he said. I was proud to put it on a rsum and I was proud to tell people, until all this discrimination started happening. But now, after all this discrimination has happened, I would give back every good experience that I experienced over the past 10 years for any hope that they would not discriminate.

Like some of the other speakers, Rapp noted that in order to win their case at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Boy Scouts of America had to convince the justices that one of their fundamental purposes as an organization is to teach their members that homosexuality is immoral and wrong. Their sole purpose right now is to prove that its O.K. to discriminate, he said. Sure, they will hide behind all their excuses, saying they have every right for this reason or that reason. But when it comes down to it, they are hurting innocent youth who are trying to [discover], or have already discovered, their sexual orientation.

Some of the finest moments of my childhood and adolescent years were spent in Scouting, said Mick Rabin, another former Eagle Scout who now works as a teacher in the San Diego Unified School District. Being an Eagle meant a great deal to me. Thus it was with mixed feelings that I decided ultimately to resign my Eagle badge in June of 2000. It was meant as a statement against the people whose actions betray the standards for tolerance that Scouting has embodied over the past near-century. Their betrayal of the spirit of Scouting turned the rank of Eagle from a badge of honor into a weight of shame and disappointment.

Rabin also warned people not to be fooled by the grudging willingness of the Boy Scouts of America to accept certain troops that allow closeted Gay and Bisexual men to participate. On August 9, Scouting for All sent out a press release announcing that Scout councils in Boston, Massachusetts; Syracuse, New York; Allentown, Pennsylvania and others had adopted such policies. The release called the councils actions misleading and said Scott Cozza, the national president of Scouting for All, had called all of them and found out that they still followed the national policy guidelines of excluding Gays.

The national BSA is giving consent to some local councils to reword current policy so that it can be interpreted in such a way as to meet funder anti-discrimination requirements, the Scouting for All release said a reference to the refusal of certain local governments and United Way chapters to give money or land to the Boy Scouts now that the Supreme Court has certified their right to preach an anti-Gay message to their leaders and members.

Rabin compared these policies to the so-called dont ask, dont tell policy of the U.S. military, and said they would have the same effect. Its an unthinkable act to marginalize any child or grown adult, for that matter by forcing them to deny, subvert or disacknowledge their cultural background, religious beliefs or political leanings, Rabin said.

Jim Gieson, one of Scoutings success stories he not only made Eagle Scout in 1981 but two years later, in 1983, was one of 12 U.S. young people given the Boy Scouts Youth Leadership in America awards for the year used the occasion to resign both his BSA awards. I am deeply saddened to see how a few top administrators in the Boy Scouts of America have strayed from the spirit of Scouting, Gieson said. The international Scouting movement is a public trust and in this country, that trust has been violated.

No other countrys Boy Scouts have a policy of excluding Gay members or leaders. Such other major U.S. youth organizations as the Girl Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs and Camp Fire dont exclude Gays, Lesbians or Bisexuals either.

Today I have given up my association with the American branch of the Boy Scouts, Gieson said as he turned in his awards. But I do not give up my association with the spirit of Scouting. I stand here, no longer as an Eagle Scout, but I stand here to tell you that the spirit of Scouting is not housed in that administration building there. The spirit of Scouting is housed instead in our hearts, in our commitment to defend the rights of all people, in our desire to return this park to everyone in San Diego.

I hope and believe that one day the administration of the Boy Scouts of America will once again be ready to uphold the Scout law and the Scout oath, Gieson continued. On that day, I look forward to retrieving my Eagle Scout award and welcoming the Boy Scouts of America back to Balboa Park.

This Eagle award will be sent to Steve Cozza for safekeeping, Menzer announced. And this one, which is mine, I intend to send with it.

The rally was MCd by Sherry Wright, public policy director of the San Diego Lesbian and Gay Mens Community Center, which co-sponsored the event with Scouting for All. Other speakers included Dolores Lesnick, president of the San Diego chapter of P-FLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); Amy Frye, junior at El Camino High School in Oceanside and co-chair of Student Alliance For Equality (S.A.F.E.); and former San Diego educator Ernie McCray.

After the rally Heather Flowe of the Centers public policy committee led a group of about 15 activists to distribute leaflets in the center of Balboa Park and talk to passers-by about the Boy Scouts issue. While many of the people the leafleters encountered were tourists, most of the local residents they met were surprisingly supportive and agreed to sign postcards to the San Diego City Council urging them not to renew the Boy Scouts leases on San Diego parkland.