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Ex-Scout James Dale: Boy Scouts should accept gay leaders

May 24, 2013|By Tina Susman and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • In 2000, former Eagle Scout James Dale, center, was outside the Supreme Court after justices joined in a spirited debate over whether the Boy Scouts can bar gays from serving as troop leaders. From right, Dale's attorney Evan Wolfson and mother.
In 2000, former Eagle Scout James Dale, center, was outside the Supreme… (Ron Thomas / Associated…)

NEW YORK -- A former Boy Scout whose decision to fight his ouster from the organization for being gay went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court says the group's vote to permit gay youth but not gay Scout leaders is a "bit of a step backward."

James Dale spoke out after the 103-year-old organization lifted its ban on gay youth — but not gay adults — in a vote by about 1,200 members of its national council. The new policy takes effect Jan. 1.

“It sends a mixed message to both gay and non-gay kids,” Dale, 42, of New York City, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “It sends a negative, destructive message to young gay kids that this is a youthful indiscretion, that they don’t really know who they are as a young person if they think they are gay, and once they’re an adult they’re not good enough anymore.”

He said the policy also sends “the wrong message to America,” including heterosexual Scouts.

“This says gay is immoral,” he said, and that “discrimination is an American value.”

Dale said he considered traveling to the Dallas area with gay advocates for the vote Thursday, but decided against it based on how conflicted he felt about the proposal.

“I just didn’t think I could join them because of how strongly I feel that it’s not the right policy,” he said.

After the vote came down late Thursday, Dale spoke with the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger. The New Jersey native said as he received congratulatory messages on Facebook after the decision, he still couldn’t celebrate.

Dale was a 19-year-old Eagle Scout when he was dismissed from the Scouts after being quoted in a newspaper story that identified him as co-president of the Rutgers University Lesbian, Gay and Bi-Sexual Alliance. He fought his dismissal in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2000 ruled 5-4 in the Scouts' favor.

Among other things, the decision said that forcing a private organization "to accept a member it does not desire" and to adopt rules that clash with its ability to advocate its viewpoint is unconstitutional.

Scouting officials have said they plan to form a team to create guidelines and help local troops implement the new policy before the start of next year. Dale said he doesn't see how that will be possible.

“I don’t know how they can create guidelines that tell them a young kid is acceptable and once they turn 18, they’re not,” he said, suggesting the new policy is an effort to stem the group’s lagging membership in recent years. “The Boy Scouts have kind of backed themselves into a corner where they're trying to stop the membership loss. Maybe they think this will stop that, but it won’t. It leaves a lot open to interpretation.

“This policy isn’t going to make the problem go away. It’s just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “I want this to be an issue of the past, but I don’t think this policy is going to do it.”

Dale became a Cub Scout when he was 8 and growing up in suburban New Jersey. He became an Eagle Scout and eventually an assistant scoutmaster. Dale was openly gay when he was ousted from the organization. Given the latest decision, Dale said he would not recommend parents steer gay youth toward scouting, because he said it does not offer them a future and guarantees they'll be rejected as Scout leaders.

"It’s half-discrimination," he said, a sentiment echoed Friday by a fellow Eagle Scout, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"I don't know how you split the ticket or why you split the ticket," Bloomberg, speaking during an interview on WOR Radio in New York, said of the decision to admit gay Boy Scouts but not gay Scout leaders. "It's a step in the right direction, but it's not going as far as we should go."

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