By Brenda Flanagan
“It’s time to wake up to the reality of how society is,” said Barry Goldman.
Goldman’s a Boy Scout leader who welcomes gays into the organization. He’s serious about scouting — marches in Memorial Day parades with Troop 181, heads the Three Rivers District in Wood Ridge. His son Andrew’s an Eagle Scout. He says scouting needs to get with the times.
“We now allow gays to be youth members and basically we tell them, ‘Once you turn 18, you’re not allowed to be a member any more.’ Because that’s when they become an adult leader,” Goldman said. When asked what he thinks about that he said, “I don’t think it’s right.”
Scouting still struggles with the issue, nationally. Yesterday Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates called for an end to the ban on gay troop leaders.
“I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement,” he said.
Gates called the ban “unsustainable” but did not call for a formal vote by the national scouting board. He also offered lots of leeway to churches that sponsor 70 percent of the individual scout troops across the country. Some dropped out when scouts admitted gay kids.
“I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs, allows religious organizations — based on their First Amendment protections of religious freedom — to establish their own standards for adult leaders and preserves the Boy Scouts of America now and forever,” Gates said.
“You can’t allow one troop to expel somebody and another troop not to. It should be like, ‘no discrimination.’ That’s never what the organization was about,” said former scout leader James Dale.
Former troop leader James Dale sued the BSA 25 years ago after they fired the Monmouth County native when he came out of the closet. Dale lost but says it’s fear of legal action that motivated Gates.
“I think they should be more fearful — not that the courts are going to force their hand — they should be fearful that people are just going to keep walking away from the Boy Scouts because they don’t believe in discrimination,” Dale said.
“It’s not a decision we would like to make on a local level. We are chartered with our national organization, so we do need to follow the guidelines that they set for us,” said Eric Chamberlin, Director of Field Service for BSA Northern NJ Council.
Chamberlin says scouting’s Northern New Jersey Council actually saw membership increase last year, particularly in urban areas. He says troop leaders step up — with 4,000 volunteers helping more than 13,700 kids in the program.
“We’re different in the regard that our volunteers are really involved, because their children are involved,” he said.
“Nobody has ever said to me, ‘I don’t want my kid to be a scout because you don’t let gays in.’ And nobody’s ever said to me, ‘I don’t want my kid to be a scout because you do let gays in,'” Goldman said.
So New Jersey scouting officials will keep looking to the national board for guidance on this issue. In effect, they will follow the scout leader.