If You Thought the Boy Scouts Being Anti-Gay Was Over, Think Again

Geoff McGrath has given a lot to the Scouts. He’s 49 years old and, as an Eagle Scout, was in an ideal position when last year he was asked to form a new troop by a reverend at his Methodist church in Seattle. McGrath, though, has now had his leadership revoked because he is openly gay.

Despite the scouts in his care and their parents being absolutely fine with McGrath being gay, the Boy Scouts of America’s administration has now revoked his membership (and, if reports are to be believed, without first informing him). Why? Because they say he had “deliberately injected” his sexuality into scouting.

Last year, the BSA took a ballot in which it voted to accept openly gay scouts. However, that change in policy does not cover gay scout leaders who are still banned under what is essentially a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This is doubly injurious because it means that a young gay man can grow up in the scouts being open about their sexuality but can never assume a leadership role despite having all the qualifications that would make him outstanding at the job, all because the BSA is still holding to notions that being gay is somehow out of step with the “path” it wants kids to be on.

McGrath, who has been with his partner and now husband for 20 years, is the first gay scout leader to be fired since the policy change came into force last year. He contends that when he filed the application for a new troop last year, called Troop 98, that application was approved without trouble. McGrath had made no secret of his being gay and he goes so far as to state that the association was fully aware of the facts of his position: that he wasn’t hiding his sexuality. Then, when it came to NBC News profiling him for a piece last month, he received word that his leadership had been “revoked.”

The BSA then told the press that it had indeed revoked McGrath’s leadership status, with spokesperson Deron Smith telling the media:

“We don’t believe the topic of sexual orientation has a role in Scouting and it is not discussed unless it is deliberately injected into Scouting. Recently, this individual provided both Scouting national leadership and the media with information that led to his removal as a leader. The BSA does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation; we remain focused on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.”

Things become murky, however, when one looks at how the Scouts have dealt with McGrath in the past.

At age 22, McGrath was asked to take on an Assistant Scoutmaster position. He was subsequently stripped of that position, it appears, for no other reason than the leadership realizing that he was openly gay. To imply that the administration had no knowledge of McGrath’s identity before approving this latest request is therefore dubious. It also seems that the timing here is suspect. The BSA, it seems, only became concerned when it realized that McGrath being openly gay would be in the press. Until that point, it hadn’t acted. One might therefore question just how seriously it takes enforcement of its sexuality policy and whether it is really more concerned with its image rather than having more substantial objections.

McGrath contends that while he did inform parents that he was openly gay and that through doing so he hoped to open a debate about gay scout leaders, his primary focus was always on leading the new troop in Scouting traditions. He also fired back at the administration, saying it is the BSA that is making his sexuality an issue, not him.

“It’s extremely disappointing to not be fully supported and defended in my membership,” McGrath is quoted as saying. “They are complaining that the problem [McGrath's being openly gay] is a distraction to Scouting and they don’t seem to understand that the distraction is self-inflicted.”

What’s interesting is that the BSA here appears to be using soft power to try to limit the scope of its accepting young gay people, too. McGrath was asked by Reverend Monica Corsaro of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, a gay-inclusive church, to start a troop that would promote an inclusive environment. By the BSA swiftly moving to oust McGrath, it sends a very clear message to gay scouts: stay in the closet if you ever want to be a scout leader.

“The Boy Scouts need to understand that the Scoutmaster they seek to remove is growing the Scouting movement,” Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, is quoted as saying. “If this unit had not been inclusive, it would not have existed. By effectively shuttering this unit, the BSA is depriving these youth of the opportunity to be a Scout and they are telling all their youth that discrimination is okay.”

The Scouts, as a private organization, is able to elevate or even fire whomever they choose, though every time they add new qualifiers to their discrimination, their policy seems to become more ugly and arbitrary. There is reason to believe, however, that change may come. First, it seems that the Scouts is setting itself up for the slow phasing out of its gay scout leader ban anyway. It seems almost unimaginable that it would allow openly gay scouts into the fold and then continue to kick them out. Simply, the antiquated policy will eventually become so time consuming to defend it will be worth jettisoning simply on that basis. How quickly that change will occur will largely come down not to media pressure, but pressure from within the BSA as parents speak out and say they find this discrimination unacceptable.

Also there is the fact that the new president of the BSA is former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Not only did Gates oversee the dismantling of the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, but he publicly and privately supported the move. At the very least, that creates the possibility for a strong transition to a more equal BSA.

Ultimately, though, ending the ban on gay scout leaders comes down to the simple matter of the BSA finally acting on the ideals it says it is trying to instill in America’s young people: courage, conviction and fairness.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Gay people are some of the nicest people I know. I accept them openly and HAPPILY!!!

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

judith sanders
judith sanders3 years ago

Once people turn their attention to another topic, oppressors will go right back to their old bad habits.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

thanks for sharing

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

Trying to get back to the true topic at hand....
I think it is a shame that a group such the BSA sends out such a confusing message to its young members. Imagine being a young man, just beginning to enter those confusing years of his life. Can you imagine what it is like to be told by the organization you love and devote so much time too, that while you will be allowed for now, that after you put in all that time, working for badges and donating your time to good causes in the name of the Scouts, that you won't be welcome soon as you become an adult.

I get that sexuality doesn't have a place in the Scouts, but I don't think the simple acknowledgement of wether you are gay or straight is imposing your sexuality. Straight people make it clear they are straight all the time without realizing that is what they do because it is simply part of their human nature. A gay man is no more likely to harm those young men than a straight man. What is harmful is teaching these young people that it is alright to treat others with such disrespect. Even more harmful to teach a young gay man that he is for some reason less deserving than his straight friends. It is difficult enough getting through those early years being gay. Why do the Scouts need to make it worse.

Tamara Burks
Tamara Burks3 years ago

One step forward, two steps back for the Boy Scouts.

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

"Make no mistake, no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God." (I Corinthians 6:9-10 [NEB])

Sorry I meant to post her version with the KJ version for comparison

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

King James Bible
6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

An excellent example of how each time the bible gets retranslated it changes just a bit more. Makes me wonder how many of those original transcripts got "translated" before they even made it into the great book.

I believe however that Vasu M's point was meant to be that if they want to condemn LGBT people because of what the bible says, then there are quite a few other things to condemn as well

Michael T.
Michael T3 years ago

@Vasu chooses newly translated buy bulls here

He claims that I Corinthians 6:9-10 says those guilty of homosexual perversion will not (translation go to) possess the kingdom of god.

It does not use those words at all.

Really Vasu? Do you really have to promote this crap?