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Scout Official Is Fired After Saying He Is Gay

Issues: Top executive in Santa Barbara district had defended group's ban on homosexuals before disclosure.

November 06, 2000|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA BARBARA — Scouts' honor compelled Leonard Lanzi, the top Boy Scout official in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, to defend the group's ban on homosexuals. But Lanzi was also obliged by Scouts' principles to tell the truth.

So last month, when speaking against a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors proposal to cut support to the Scouts because the group excludes gays, he made a startling disclosure: "I am gay."

"A Scout has to have integrity," Lanzi said. "And I could not speak up here without feeling hypocritical." He then embraced the 12 attributes of a Scout: "I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

And now he is fired.

Lanzi, the executive director of the Los Padres Council of the Boy Scouts of America, was suspended shortly after revealing his sexual orientation at the Oct. 17 supervisors' meeting, and a week later was fired, said Scott Ames, Lanzi's attorney.

Lanzi's full-time position overseeing 249 Scout units in the Central Coast is controlled by the local board.

Lanzi received a letter on Oct. 26 from Scout officials informing him that he was stripped of his commission and therefore "cannot continue as Scout executive," said Alan Courtney, a board member from Solvang.

Ames said Lanzi plans to file a civil rights lawsuit.

Community leaders were quick to sympathize with Lanzi, and at least one member of the Scouts' executive board has resigned in protest.

"If he [Lanzi] were to run for mayor today, he would win hands down," said Robert G. Hansen, president of the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. Hansen, who runs a high-tech engineering company, said that although the Rotary takes no official position on the case, members recognized Lanzi's dilemma with a standing ovation at a meeting.

"The Boy Scouts are the big loser in this," Hansen said.

With the support, however, there also has been hostility. Courtney said Lanzi has gotten anti-gay hate calls.

The highly regarded Scout executive may be the most prominent casualty in the aftermath of a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude gays. The ruling has prompted many communities to confront an issue they had previously avoided.

After the court decision, Santa Barbara County's Human Relations Commission came up with a proposal to end financial support for the Boy Scouts, citing local anti-discrimination laws. Though county supervisors have yet to vote on the measure, the civic debate over the matter has made Lanzi's private life public.

"Some of us may have known or suspected Len was gay, but who cared? Everybody's pretty tolerant; this is California," said Dennis Peterson, a longtime volunteer and father of an Eagle Scout.

Peterson said he and some prominent Scout boosters are outraged by Lanzi's firing. "It's a tragedy. He bares his soul to help the organization and it comes back and bites him," Peterson said.

The Santa Barbara property manager has resigned from the Scout board's executive committee, just as he was set to head a $2-million fund-raising drive. "The strongest statement I can make is to say, 'I quit,' " Peterson said, calling the Scouts' policy on gays "morally wrong."

Another board member, Karl Eberhard, said he expects to resign.

Eberhard, an architect, said he has stopped his pro bono work designing a shower building for a Scout camp. Eberhard said that before the Supreme Court decision and what happened to Lanzi, he had no qualms about Scouting, because its exclusion of gays "was rather convenient and easy to ignore. Now it's right in our face."

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the Boy Scouts had a right to ban gays because opposition to homosexuality is part of the group's "expressive message."

The decision overturned a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that required a troop to readmit a longtime member and assistant scoutmaster whom the troop had dismissed after learning he was gay. James Dale was ejected after his picture appeared in a newspaper article about a gay student conference at Rutgers University, where he was co-president of the gay and lesbian students organization.

Even before the Supreme Court ruling, the Scouts' ban on gays had prompted some local governments, school districts and corporations to curtail their support, either through donations or use of facilities. Chicago no longer lets the Boy Scouts use parks, city buildings and schools free of charge, and San Francisco public schools no longer sponsor Scouting programs during school hours.

Other actions include a civil rights lawsuit against the city of San Diego seeking an end to a $1-a-year lease of parkland to the Scouts, and Connecticut is considering whether to forbid the Boy Scouts the use of public campgrounds or buildings.

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