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Gay Ban Stands or No Explorers, Laguna Warned

September 29, 1993|LESLIE EARNEST | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — The Boy Scouts of America has warned it will dismantle its Explorer Scout program here unless the city bars any openly gay people from becoming members or advisers, something city officials refuse to do.

Kent W. Gibbs, president of the Scouts' Orange County Council, reaffirmed in a letter obtained Tuesday the organization's policy of excluding "avowed homosexuals" from the program for youths ages 14 to 21 who are interested in a law enforcement career.

"If a chartered organization sponsoring an Explorer post should knowingly violate any of these standards," he wrote in the letter dated Sept. 22, "the BSA has no recourse but to revoke the charter of that post."

His letter responded to Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr., who informed the Boy Scouts of America 12 days ago that the Police Department will not comply with the policy barring homosexuals from the Explorer program.

It was the first such challenge to the Scouting organization's policy in Orange County, and city leaders gave no indication Tuesday that they are willing to back down.

"I think it's a clear-cut case of discrimination," said Purcell. "I took a sworn oath to protect all people's rights and I know of nothing in this state that makes it illegal to be homosexual."

Siding with Purcell, City Councilwoman Ann Christoph added: "I think the ball is in their court."

What happens to the city's Explorer program, which has existed for two decades, will be discussed by the council in November. The charter agreement between the city and Boy Scouts of America comes up for renewal in February.

"It's a controversial issue and we should take the heat for it," said Councilman Robert F. Gentry, who is openly gay. "Obviously, we cannot sign that annual charter."

Laguna Beach, which has a large homosexual population, is the only city in Orange County with a law prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

Options for the city include dropping its Explorer program, waiting to see if the Boy Scouts of America terminates it, or fighting the organization's policy in court.

City officials say they want to keep the program, and both Gentry and Purcell have said they would consider a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. However, Gentry said Tuesday he prefers to avoid a legal confrontation.

Instead, Gentry hopes the city can work out a compromise agreement with the Boy Scouts so Laguna Beach youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, will continue being Explorer Scouts.

"It would be like an associate membership, in a way--we would not sign the charter and would not say we would discriminate but would work together on issues like training," said Gentry. "I would like to explore that."

Gibbs, however, dismissed that proposed solution.

"We are not about to sacrifice our principles or policies," he said in an interview. "I can't envision right now that there's any middle ground to violating the rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts. Our rules are pretty firm."

Since the dispute between the city and the scouting group were made public, Gibbs said parents have called and written to the organization expressing support. Gentry said the scant responses he received were opposed to the city's position.

"All of us on the council really support the work of the Explorer program," Gentry said. "It's a very important part of our community and of law enforcement."

There are currently eight members in the city's program, which helped train some of the city's police officers now serving.

Last year, the Boy Scouts of America ended the El Cajon Police Department's Explorer program after the officer coordinating the group revealed he was gay.

In response, then-San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen cut that department's ties with the Boy Scouts of America because of its policy regarding homosexuals.

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