Trail to historic gay Boy Scouts vote started in the Bay Area


This Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) Executive Board will consider removing the controversial ban on gay members and allow each individual troop to adopt its own policy on gay scouts. The board publicly reaffirmed the anti-gay policy just last summer, but recent pressure from gay rights groups, corporate sponsors, and Bay Area troops has forced the governing body to revisit the blanket prohibition on gay members.  

Opposition to the Boy Scout’s ban first surfaced in Northern California in the late 1980s when Tim Curran, an Eagle Scout and aspiring scoutmaster, sued the Mount Diablo Boy Scout Council for discrimination after being denied the position. Curran took the suit to the Supreme Court and lost. The court’s landmark decision in Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America continues to provide the legal justification for the BSA’s anti-gay policies.

Since the ruling, the San Francisco Bay Area has emerged as a key battleground in the struggle for gay membership in the scouts. Local troops often clash with the national organization over the ban and many local scout leaders publicly denounce the policy as discriminatory and hateful.

In October, openly gay East Bay scout Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle Scout badge by the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council due to his sexual orientation. Although officials with the council voiced reservations about denying Andresen, they are bound by BSA national policy that has long maintained homosexuality is inconsistent with the scouts oath to be “morally straight.”  

Andresen’s father resigned his position as an assistant scoutmaster, and Andresen’s mother organized an online petition which collected nearly half a million signatures protesting her son’s expulsion. The incident is sparking a widespread public debate about the Scout’s discrimination policy. Andresen appeared on national TV, and his petition garnered high profile support from California politicians like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and US Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Andresen’s national profile and the publicity surrounding his case inspired outrage among local scouts and adult leaders. Steve Tennant, committee chair of Palo Alto Troop 57, said the parents and volunteers in his troop felt compelled to act. “We were all outraged and we immediately started thinking about how we could go about changing this policy,” he told the Guardian.

The controversy quickly galvanized parents and scouts throughout the Bay Area to more openly challenge the gay ban. From San Francisco to Palo Alto, parents and scouts penned public letters of protest decrying the policy and and urging the local Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council to reconsider Andresen.

Parents in Tennant’s Troop 57, located just a few miles from Andresen’s troop, unanimously adopted a non-discrimination policy both to voice solidarity with Anderson and to avoid potential discrimination in their own troop.

“It was just a matter of time until a kid in our troop faced the same situation as Ryan. I would rather resign my position than kick a kid out of the Scouts for being gay,” Tennant, whose two sons are currently scouts, told the Guardian. “Seeing the reaction of our parents and seeing the support for Ryan convinced me personally to stay involved with the Scouts,” he added.  

Eagle Scouts from Andresen’s district also mobilized against the ban. Trevor Wallace, an Eagle Scout from the nearby Troop 57, helped to organize meetings to pressure the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council to allow Andresen to earn his badge. “My troop has been completely outraged by what happened to Ryan,” Wallace told the Guardian. “I got my Eagle Scout badge the same time Ryan was supposed to get his... discriminating against him like this is old fashioned and wrong.”

Michael and Andrew Dotson, a father-son scoutmaster duo who lead San Francisco’s Troop 88, echoed the concerns of Wallace and Tennant. “I want the boys to feel safe and be able to be open,” Michael Dotson told the Guardian. “Troop 88 would be very accepting of gay members once the ban is removed. And I hope it is.”

Andrew Dotson, a recent Eagle Scout who now works as his father’s assistant scoutmaster also opposes the ban. Growing up in San Francisco, he encountered plenty of gay scouts. But because of the national policy, the boys in his troop had to stay formally in the closet or risk expulsion. “I just don’t think that’s right,” he told the Guardian. “Scouting should be open to everybody.

Andresen’s case and the outpouring of support from other Bay Area scouts drew the attention of Zack Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, a national organization founded last summer to pressure the BSA Executive Board d to revisit the gay-ban.  

Wahls credits Andresen and his supporters with providing the necessary grassroots pressure to potentially change the national policy.

“It’s important to remember that only seven months ago, the Scouts were adamant that this policy was not going to change,” Wahls told the Guardian. “What happened in those seven months was that we harnessed online tools and worked with people like Ryan to highlight the negative impact this ban has on the local level.”

Wahl and Boy Scouts for Equality also targeted corporations and sympathetic members of the BSA board.  Over the summer, board members Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, announced publicly their opposition to the ban. Since September, several major corporate sponsors, including Intel and UPS, announced that they would rescind financial support for the BSA until the national organization lifted the ban.  

Ahead of the board meeting, BSA officials reiterated that lifting the ban would not force any individual troops to change their own membership policies. “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents,” BSA spokesperson Deron Smith told the New York Times. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation.

For many scouts in the Bay Area, however, removing the national ban is just the beginning. The end goal is the adoption of a national non-discrimination policy. But given the Boy Scouts history of strident opposition to gay rights, reconsidering the ban is significant development. “I think a national policy will take time,” reflected Michael Dotson of Troop 88, “but this is a good first step.”



but times have changed and so have many of us.

Now it's about Bigot vs. Non-bigot. Very simple.

It is okay to be Gay, Straight, whatever. It is *not* okay to be a hating bigot.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 9:14 am

For example, look at the hatred vented by SF liberals toweards affluent, straight white males. The hatees have become the haters. Human nature, I guess.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 9:45 am

Poor, poor rich people.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 10:02 am

anyone purely by virtue of their membership of some class or group is a form of discrimination and prejudice. It doesn't much matter whether that group is white bankers, asian entrepreneurs, hispanic day workers or black muni drivers. Gay, straight, young, old, it's all bad and wrong.

But by making out that some groups are better than some other groups, you are feeding the hatred.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 10:29 am

The rich are by definition powerful and do not need any help from the bulk of us who are not powerful.

There is nothing wrong with discrimination. I don't like chocolate ice cream. I discriminate against chocolate ice cream. There, I just said it.

I am much more concerned about what happens when the powerful discriminate against the weak than if the powerful don't get everything they want.

But please, continue your ham handed efforts to transfigure progressive values into your conservative agenda.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 10:48 am

I simply said that you should not hate someone merely because of their membership of some class. That is stereotyping.

And you're confusing being "discriminating" (which you might be about flavors of ice cream) and being "discriminatory" which is hating someone purely because they are straight or white or rich or religious.

So when I hire someone, I am "discriminating" about who I hire but I do not discriminate on the basis of their race, religion, etc.

It's subtle so I'm not surprised it went over your head.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:05 am

Not giving the powerful everything they want is only hating them if they think that their self worth is validated externally, by the approval of others.

Holding the rich and powerful accountable is the deepest expression of love for them.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:13 am

based only on their participation in a group. There are good and bad people who are rich, poor, black, white, gay and straight.

Stereotypes are for those looking for a reason to hate.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:47 am

My son is reading about the Crusades and asks me "why would supposedly religious people hate others?" Because they are of a different group. Now fewer Americans are active members of an organized religion. Guess what? It is now acceptable to hate those who are in a religion.

Getting people to stop hating a group that has become generally accepted is not difficult, it is the normal course of human affairs. It is fantastic that gays/lesbians are now accepted in society and welcome in all aspects of the culture.

But that hate remains, and searches for a new target acceptable to the community. Arabs? Chinese? Teachers unions? Getting rid of hate entirely is a challenge humanity has made little progress on. Let's celebrate each small victory but keep our eye on the larger picture so that we don't just raise up new villains.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

Hatred based on nothing but a stereotype is always wrong regardless of the target.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

Ain't no stereotyping going on here, you should know from your familiarity with stereotyping, people who DO things OWN responsibility for their evictions, displacement, gentrification and general boring down of a one great city.

I have no complaint with the wealthy or others in the same income bracket as TIC commune member who don't engage in conduct which is known to be deleterious to others.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

For every class of people for whom you seek to predicate a behavior pattern to, there are exceptions disproving the rule. Generalizations that you might make about bankers, landlords, TIC owners etc. are self serving. In the end, they are individuals and are good or bad on an individual bases and not because of any class they belong to.

Class warfare requires people ot pigeonhole, stereotype and hate. Hardly a "San Francisco value".

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

Yes. Very true, even without the "affluent" part. Stand your ground on any moral stance and your branded as "hateful" or "intolerant" by the people that don't agree with you.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

So when will the Boy Scouts stop discriminating against nonbelievers? It's no longer acceptable to hate on the gays, but hating on atheists is still ok?

Posted by Greg on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

Probably sooner than you will stop hating them.

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 1:44 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

The city should still deny them use of public property.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

If a straight guy wants to join a gay club, or a white guy wants to join a black club, or a man wants to join a club for women, should the city deny use of public property to those associations too?

How would you know when and where to stop?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

Like Tom Ammiano, you believe in punishing San Francisco children for the mistakes of people in Texas, to make points with adults who are not directly affected by the decision.

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

To YOU placing one's penis into another man's rectum is normal and someone who is disgusted by that behavior is a "hater" -- no matter what you may say or think, this behavior is abnormal, repulsive and does not reproduce another human being -- the main purpose of sexual behavior. As a homosexual -- you are an aberration of humanity and not something to be emulated by Scouts. Just the facts - but your support for gay Scouts is to be expected.....what else would one expect from this area of the country.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

kind of turned on.

Posted by admin on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

so drunk.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 05, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

Thanks for the acknowledgment of the pioneering lawsuit, filed on my behalf by the ACLU of Southern California (where I was living at the time). One minor fact-check: The suit was actually filed in the *early* 80s: April, 1981, to be precise.

Posted by Tim Curran on Feb. 06, 2013 @ 6:38 am