Friday, June 13, 2003

Don't ask, don't tell, don't live your life, just go away. Last month I wrote about a heartening decision by Philadelphia scout executives to adopt a nondiscrimination policy to protect gay Boy Scouts and scout leaders.

Well, so much for that. Today's Boston Globe carries a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting that the Cradle of Liberty Council had ousted an 18-year-old scout for publicly coming out in the course of protesting against the national Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory stance. Reporter Linda Harris writes:

"He [scout -- uh, former scout -- Gregory Lattera] decided to hold a press conference to come out as a member of the gay community and also a potential employee and past employee of the Boy Scouts," said [council leader William] Dwyer, who signed the letter to Lattera. "Our staff knew he was gay and never made a big deal about it. He decided to make a big deal about it. The don't ask, don't tell policy is pretty clear."

The local antidiscrimination policy approved in May, however, has no mention of don't ask, don't tell.

Harris's suspicions concerning "don't ask, don't tell" turn out to be well-founded. Because the news in today's Inquirer is quite a bit worse: the Cradle of Liberty Council has reversed its antidiscrimination policy after the national office, in Irving, Texas, threatened to revoke its charter.

This is disturbing, of course, but it's also puzzling. Surely council executives knew they were going to have a fight on their hands when they decided to break with national. If they were prepared to stop discriminating, then presumably they were prepared to go it alone and set up some sort of alternative to the national BSA.

As a Boy Scout volunteer and the father of a scout, I was watching with great interest. I suspect that plenty of councils -- perhaps even Boston's Minuteman Council, which announced its own "don't ask, don't tell" policy last year -- would have been prepared to join them.

According to the Inquirer, the new policy reads: "Applications for leadership and membership do not inquire into sexual orientation. However, an individual who declares himself to be a homosexual would not be permitted to join Scouting."

Here is the BSA's press release on the Philadelphia story. And here is the Cradle of Liberty Council's position statement.

What's also disheartening is that the Philadelphia executives are apparently gutless as well. Note that point two of the council's statement says:

This non-discrimination disclosure was directed to the use of United Way funds in the Learning for Life program and was not, and was not intended to be, an indication of any desire by the board to depart from the National Council policies nor should it be construed as any indication that Cradle of Liberty Council will fail to uphold any policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

Yet here's what council president David Lipson told the Inquirer several weeks ago: "We disagree with the national stance, and we're not comfortable with the stated national policy. That's why we're working on a solution that works for everyone." He added: "We'd like to move the discussion to standards for sexual conduct rather than sexual orientation." (By the way, the Inquirer calls Lipson the council's "board chairman," but the BSA says he is the "president." I will assume that the BSA can at least get that much right.)

Do Lipson's remarks sound like it was all a misunderstanding, as the council's statement suggests? Of course not. It's clear that the council was prepared to stop discriminating -- period. Now it's backed off, and it's hung Lipson out to dry -- as seen in this statement from Irving: "Cradle of Liberty Council President David Lipson has expressed disagreement with the BSA's membership policies, as is his right."

Yeah, that's right. It was just one crazy liberal. Now we can all get back to normal.

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