Scouts Policy on Gays Divisive

Thursday, October 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — For 90 years, the Boy Scouts have helped foster togetherness and civic pride. Over the past few months, in communities across America, they have become a catalyst for conflict.

In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Scout's ban on gay Scout leaders. Denouncing that policy as discriminatory, numerous school boards, city councils, corporations and charities have halted or reduced support for the Scouts.

Yet this fall there is increasing evidence of a backlash against that backlash. Parents, business executives and conservative political groups are speaking out against those who are retaliating against the Scouts.

``People are absolutely outraged that they would consider attacking the Boy Scouts,'' said Janet Folger, a conservative activist in Florida with the Center for Reclaiming America.

``This time they've gone too far, and it's going to hurt them,'' she said of the Fort Lauderdale City Commission's decision to cancel a grant to the Scouts. ``We're going to be looking to remedy this assault through the electoral process.''

Elsewhere around the country:

—In Tempe, Ariz., the City Council reversed an attempt to keep city workers' donations from going to the Scouts through the United Way. The initial decision prompted a flurry of angry calls and e-mails, and the city's openly gay mayor, Neil Giuliano, is now targeted by a recall campaign.

—In Kentucky, numerous donors to the United Way of the Bluegrass threatened to stop contributions if the charity cut off its funding to the Boy Scouts. The United Way decided to continue supporting the Scouts.

—In Eugene, Ore., a school district's ban on Boy Scout recruiting at schools was lifted following vehement complaints. The superintendent and school board chairwoman apologized for not seeking the opinion from the public before the ban was imposed.

—In Indiana, a conservative organization is raising $17,000 to help the Boy Scouts' Hoosier Trails Council offset the loss of funding from the United Way of Monroe County.

``People were not happy that anyone would put a political agenda ahead of helping boys,'' said Eric Miller, executive director of Advance America. ``Maybe we here in Indiana can send a signal to other locations around the country.''

Emotions are equally strong on the other side. This week, the Minneapolis school board said its schools can no longer sponsor Scout troops; more than two dozen troops with about 900 members must find new sponsors.

In Denver, a rabbi told his congregation he is protesting the ban on gays by returning scouting awards he earned as a youth. ``I have always respected the Scouts, but they have made a terrible mistake,'' said Steven Foster.

``There are conflicting feelings around the country on this,'' said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union. ``There's a lot of gray area, a lot of people in flux, trying to figure out what this means for their community and their children.''

Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said the organization does not have updated figures on donations or membership that could measure the effect of the Supreme Court decision. But he said recent start-of-school recruitment drives went well, and he described overall support for the Scouts as solid.

``I'll see where a foundation somewhere might have cut funding to us, and a donor will drop in the council office and give an amount that makes up for the amount withdrawn,'' he said.

Shields was heartened by a 362-12 vote in Congress last month, when lawmakers rejected a proposal to strip the Boy Scouts of their federal charter.

``These are congresspeople going back to their districts for re-election,'' Shields said. ``They know their constituents. They know how people feel.''

He noted that presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush have voiced support for the Scouts, and that federal officials ruled the Scouts could continue to hold jamborees on government land.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., has gone further, introducing what he calls the Scouts Honor Act. It seeks to protect the Scouts against punitive measures by any entity that receives federal funds.

``I don't think anybody expects radical change on the political level,'' said the ACLU's Ferrero. ``The Boy Scouts have spent 90 years being thought of as part of the fabric of America. That doesn't change in 3 1/2 months.''