Around the Nation
6:05 pm
Wed July 31, 2013

Twice Rejected, LGBT Group Won't Give Up On Boy Scout Bid

Originally published on Wed July 31, 2013 6:45 pm

Seventh-grader Senicka Arciaga-Spears wants to be a Boy Scout. Over a homemade Sunday evening dinner, he tells his two moms, Eliza and Kelly, that he wants to learn survival skills — including fishing and "dangerous hiking."

Eliza would like her son to join the Scouts, too. "They teach discipline and obedience and respect and self-sufficiency. I want that for him," she says. "I want him to learn those things and be surrounded by those things."

So when Eliza heard earlier this year that the Utah Pride Center, a LGBT organization, was trying to organize a Scout troop with the help of local Scoutmaster Peter Brownstein, she approached Brownstein about Senicka joining if the center's application to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was approved.

"The idea was to create something not just that would be inclusive of LGBT youth, but also youth who are interested in the benefits of scouting without being a part of the church to do it," Brownstein says of the center's application.

The church Brownstein is referring to is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of the more than 2,700 troops in the Great Salt Lake Council, 99 percent are chartered by Mormon congregations. Brownstein wanted to create alternatives for Scouts who are not LDS, and says the mission of the Utah Pride Center is similar to principles in the Scout oath and law: "Helping people in the community and service," he says. "And a large part of the scouting program is built on service, helping others who are less fortunate."

Brownstein found almost a dozen families willing to sign up their boys and approached Charles Frost of the Utah Pride Center about sponsoring such a troop. The BSA voted in May to allow gay Scouts, but not gay adult leaders. The center says its troop, if founded, will observe that rule.

The center's initial efforts, Frost says, were warmly received by some Scout volunteers.

"We were told that with our reasoning, especially with multiculturalism and reaching out to youth of color, that that was a big initiative within BSA, and that we would probably be successful," Frost says.

The center has applied for a charter twice, but was twice rejected for the same reason: mission misalignment.

Rick Barnes, Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council, says officials with the National Council told him that the missions of the Utah Pride Center and the BSA were not compatible. Barnes says he respects the Utah Pride Center and their efforts, but he doesn't believe scouting should partner with advocacy organizations.

"Creating controversy isn't going to help anyone," he says. It just alienates more people on both sides." Barnes says he supports the new policies and doesn't think scouting will change much.

"I think what it does show is that there is some compassion for understanding boys with, you know, same-sex attraction. We're here to help youth," Barnes says.

But that sentiment leads the Pride Center's Charles Frost to wonder if scouting is ready to welcome gay youth.

"By calling us a distraction, it allows BSA to remain ignorant, and to remain an organization that shames people and doesn't allow them to be truly authentic and whole," Frost says.

Since the decision in May to allow gay youth but still ban gay adults, scouting has lost members on both sides of the issue. Some evangelical Christians have left to form their own youth program. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors who say the decision doesn't go far enough are ending their funding of the BSA.

The Utah Pride Center plans to keep recruiting families until they have enough potential members to convince the BSA to grant them a charter.

Back at the Arciaga-Spears household, Senicka's mom Kelly says that even though scouting isn't perfect, she and Eliza still believe Senicka would benefit from the program.

"Our son is interested in the same thing yours is interested in," she says. "And we're not any different than anybody else's moms. We want to teach you how to sew on the badges that you earn."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In May, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow gay Scouts but continue to ban gay Scout leaders. Those are the rules that a gay and lesbian center in Utah says it will follow as it starts a Boy Scouts troop. Still, the Utah Pride Center is facing resistance from the Boy Scouts, as we hear from Terry Gildea of member station KUER.

TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: Seventh grader Senicka Arciaga-Spears wants to be a Boy Scout. Over a homemade Sunday evening dinner, he tells his moms, Eliza and Kelly, what he wants to learn and do as a Scout.

SENICKA ARCIAGA-SPEARS: Hiking - dangerous hiking - and fishing.

KELLY: Survival skills.

ARCIAGA-SPEARS: Yeah, survival skills.

KELLY: You're very interested...

GILDEA: Senicka's mom Eliza heard that the Utah Pride Center was trying to organize a Scout troop.

ELIZA: They teach discipline and obedience and respect and self-sufficiency. I want that for him. I want him to learn those things and be surrounded by those things - have those life experiences.

GILDEA: Eliza talked to Scoutmaster Peter Brownstein about the possibility of joining if the center sponsored the troop.

PETER BROWNSTEIN: The idea was to create something not just that would be inclusive of LGBT youth but also youth who are interested in the benefits of Scouting without being part of the church to do it.

GILDEA: The church Brownstein is referring to is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Of the more than 2,700 troops in the Great Salt Lake Council, 99 percent are chartered by Mormon congregations. Brownstein wanted to create alternatives for Scouts who are not LDS. He says the mission of the Utah Pride Center is similar to principles in the Scout oath and law.

BROWNSTEIN: Helping people in the community and service. And a large part of the Scouting program is built on service, helping others who are less fortunate.

GILDEA: Brownstein found almost a dozen families willing to sign up their boys. He went to Charles Frost from the Utah Pride Center. Frost says their initial efforts were warmly received by some Scout volunteers.

CHARLES FROST: We were told that with our reasoning, especially with multiculturalism and reaching out to youth of color, that that was a big initiative within BSA and that we would probably be successful.

RICK BARNES: Creating controversy isn't going to help anyone. It just alienates more people on both sides.

GILDEA: Rick Barnes is the Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council. He says officials with the National Council told him that the missions of the Utah Pride Center and the BSA were not compatible. The Pride Center applied for a charter twice, and it was twice rejected for the same reason: mission misalignment. Barnes says he respects the Utah Pride Center and their efforts, but he doesn't believe Scouting should partner with advocacy organizations. He supports the new policies and doesn't think Scouting will change much.

BARNES: I think what it does show is that there is some compassion for understanding boys with, you know, same-sex attraction. We're here to help youth.

GILDEA: But that sentiment leads Charles Frost of the Pride Center to wonder if Scouting is ready to welcome gay youth.

FROST: By calling us a distraction, it allows BSA to remain ignorant and to remain an organization that shames people and doesn't allow them to be truly authentic and whole.

GILDEA: Since the decision in May to allow gay youth but still ban gay adults, Scouting has lost members on both sides of the issue. Some evangelical Christians have left to form their own youth program. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors who say the decision doesn't go far enough are ending their funding of the BSA.

KELLY: For tonight, sweetheart, we're going to go to bed. And then tomorrow...

GILDEA: Back at the Arciaga-Spears household, Kelly says that even though Scouting isn't perfect, she and Eliza still believe Senicka would benefit from the program.

ELIZA: Our son is interested in the same thing yours is interested in. And we're not any different than anybody else's moms. We want to teach you how to sew on the badges that you earn.

GILDEA: The Utah Pride Center plans to keep recruiting families like the Arciaga-Spears until they have enough potential members to convince the BSA to grant them a charter. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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