PROVIDENCE, R.I. - (KRT) - On a humid June
night, at a church hall in Providence, R.I., Boy Scout Troop 28
welcomes a distinguished guest to its Eagle Court of Honor.
He is many things a young man could hope to be. Ivy League
graduate. Accomplished trial lawyer. Respected politician. The
guest, Providence's Mayor David N. Cicilline, is also openly
What is remarkable about this event is that under the Boy Scout's
national policy that bans gay Scouts and leaders, Cicilline, who
leads a city of 173,000 people, could not lead a Boy Scout
And what is remarkable is that the assistant scoutmaster
introduces Cicilline as a "role model for all our boys."
No one gathered in the hall at Central Congregational Church
seems startled. Not the boys, whose sashes are decorated with merit
badges. Not the parents, the ones who brought the Eagle Scout sheet
cake and the Boy Scout balloons and the orange toolbox with "Be
prepared" written on it. They look on proudly as Cicilline says that
"this troop's incredibly important stand to ensure that Scouting is
available for all young men ... regardless of their sexual
orientation" is "one small example of standing up to what's right
What is going on? The adult leaders of Troop 28 are part of a
handful of Scout parents in the nation who are staying with an
organization they love, while fighting from within to change a
policy they don't.
Somewhere between Scouting highlights, they are quietly drafting
antidiscrimination resolutions. They are on the Internet to track
what happens to other defiant troops. One troop consulted a lawyer.
They talk to the media, and then wonder if "national" is going to
So far, the Rhode Island troops are safe, but there's always the
fear that they've gone too far. At least two troops in other parts
of the country have been kicked out.
Wasn't the challenging part of Scouting supposed to happen in the
great outdoors? How did den dads and Webelos moms turn into
To answer that, one must go back to the Boy Scouts' stance on
Some of the dissenting parents say they never knew about such a
policy when they enrolled their sons in Scouting; the words gay or
homosexual were not in the handouts.
But when a smattering of gay Scouts and leaders were kicked out,
in cases that drew national publicity, the Boy Scouts of America
announced from its Irving, Texas, headquarters that its stand on
homosexuality is right there in the last line of The Scout Oath,
written in 1910. A Scout promises to keep himself "morally
The Boy Scouts defended its right to dismiss assistant
scoutmaster James Dale all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which,
in October 2000, ruled 5 to 4 that the Scouts are a private
organization that can set its own membership standards.
The Boy Scouts argued - and still do - that the policy
represented the values of its members. Who are those members? In a
phone interview, Gregg Shields, the spokesman for the national Boy
Scouts, said 65 percent of troops are sponsored by churches, with
the Mormon church and the United Methodist church each sponsoring 10
percent of the nation's troops. The churches have a similar
representation on the national policymaking board, Shields said.
He said that, "we have done some polling of Boy Scouts and
parents, and parents of Boy Scout age. We hear overwhelming support
for the policy."
But it did not go over well in some more liberal corners of the
"Boys would go door to door to sell tickets for the haunted house
and had some doors slammed in their faces," recalled Dr. Allen M.
Dennison, assistant scoutmaster of Troop 28. "People would say, this
is a hate organization."
"We were having trouble recruiting," he said.
Dennison, 50, is a doctor who has four sons - two Eagle Scouts,
and twins who are working toward their Eagles.
He is 6 feet 6 inches tall, with a Scout uniform to fit. He grew
up in the Bronx, and was a Scout until he went to boarding school.
He quotes Dickens, and ancient thinkers. When making a point about
the importance of upholding principles, he asked, "Who drank the
He encourages some rowdiness, with an intellectual bent: on a
recent canoe trip he invited a Brown University professor of
geology, who, Dennison explained, "will tell us the composition of
all the boulders we will strike in the middle of the river."
Dennison, like most Scout parents, believes he's shaping leaders.
In his view, the ideal camping trip begins when a Boy Scout, not a
parent, notices that there aren't enough lanterns and goes to get
more. Out in the woods, it's the Scouts who prepare the freeze-dried
food while the parents wait with tin plates.
So when the Troop 28 scouts who had been spurned during
door-to-door sales came back to their leaders and asked what was
going on, Dennison told them: "Well, guys, a lot of people in Rhode
Island are very anxious about the exclusionary policy of the Boy
Scouts. What do you think we should do about it?"
The Scouts said it's not right, Dennison said. Several of the
boys in the troop knew gay individuals; in fact, Troop 28 had
recently had an openly gay teenager as a member. The Scouts
suggested the troop write a letter to The Providence Journal.
Troop 28 and Cub Scout Pack 88, both sponsored by Central
Congregational Church, went further than that. One month after the
Supreme Court ruling, both groups wrote a letter to Boy Scout
officials, saying that, in one community in Rhode Island anyway,
Scouts would not follow any such policy.
In Troop 28, 21 people signed the letter, including parents, an
Eagle Scout, and troop leaders, such as Dennison, and Robert A.
Shaw, an associate dean at Brown University, who is the troop's
The troop sent its letter to Rhode Island's Narragansett Council
of Boy Scouts, which said they passed the letter along to the Boy
Scouts of America in Texas.
"We said we would not consider (sexual orientation) as reason to
exclude someone," Dennison said, "and we're willing to take the
consequences up to and including disqualification."
"Morally straight means doing what is right, and what is right is
clearly not to peddle hate," he said.
A few other troops followed a similar trail after the Supreme
Court ruling; they felt the weight of their own values, and of
communities where excluding gays was not acceptable.
"The majority of parents in my community view homosexuality as a
civil rights issue," recalled Jim D'Acosta, a high school history
teacher, and the former leader of Cub Scout Pack 197 in Fairfield,
"There was pressure in the local community for the pack to take a
stand," he said in a phone interview. "We did lose Scouts."
So the parents of Cub Scout Pack 197 spent nine months doing
research and producing multiple drafts of a letter. A den leader
consulted a lawyer. The pack, D'Acosta said, wanted to word its
letter carefully, so as to make a statement condemning the Boy Scout
position "without forcing national to kick us out."
Pack 197's letter ultimately said that in their interpretation,
"the Scout oath and law requires Scouts and leaders to take
The parents of Pack 197 sent a letter to national Boy Scout
headquarters, to the regional council and to the local press. They
placed copies in the elementary school, for parents who were picking
up information about Pack 197.
The position, he said, "helped us retain our sponsorship at the
local school and made parents happy." The troop was never penalized
by Scout officials for its stance, he said. A troop in West
Hartford, Conn., that passed an antidiscrimination resolution also
was not punished for going against the national policy.
D'Acosta would rather think about projects such as building
pushcarts for the Memorial Day parade. Still, he's occasionally
reminded that he's part of an organization that, in one area,
clashes with his own values.
He recalled a Scouting trip to Washington, D.C., to see the site
of the World War II monument. D'Acosta was in a hotel lobby in his
Boy Scout uniform when a couple approached him. They were from
Oklahoma, and in town lobbying on some issue. The woman "reached out
her hand and wanted to thank me for the position that Boy Scouts had
taken on homosexuality."
D'Acosta sat her down, and told her that not everyone in Scouting
agrees with that position.
Such experiences raise a question - are these parents being
intellectually honest if they are still paying, uniform-wearing
Former Scout supporters such as John Archer, a Massachusetts
businessman, don't think so.
Archer owns an insurance business in Danvers, Mass. He sits on
the boards of his local United Way and Salvation Army. And for
years, he lent his name to the local Boy Scouts' fundraising letter.
"By going along with it a little bit, you're going along with it
a lot," Archer said by phone.
The troops in his area, "there's not one problem. But still, they
are governed by this organization in Texas ... Their basic premise
is that gay people are no good. It's pretty bad, and I'm not saying
this lightly, it's disgusting. (The Boy Scout headquarters in)
Irving, Texas, is a bad place, bad. They foster into a young man the
idea that discrimination is OK. Take that with a young mind, a
six-pack of beer and a gun, and someone is dead."
Scouting for All, a national campaign of Scouts, former Scouts
and others who are working to change the Boy Scouts of America's
stand on gay members, said parents who complain from within the
ranks have the best chance of changing the policy.
"We are really pushing that," said Wil Fisher, the group's
Northeast coordinator. "We don't want our move to change this policy
to seem like an outside group of radical lobbyists pushing something
onto a private organization."
The Scouting parents are also influential, Fisher believes,
because the national Boy Scout organization does not want to lose
members and funding. The United Way of Southeastern New England, for
one, eliminated its $200,000 annual award to the Narragansett Boy
Scouts three years ago when the Scouts refused to sign an
antidiscrimination statement, which included sexual orientation,
according to Hank Sennott, spokesman for the local United Way. The
statement had been given to all agencies funded by the United
Said Fisher, of Scouting for All, "With the small troops, they
seem to brush it under the table. A lot of that comes from pressure
the different troops are getting from funding and the United
"It's when larger councils go directly against the policy that
national feels obligated to go and take action," he said, referring
to a dispute in Philadelphia, where the Boy Scout council passed an
antidiscrimination resolution in May and was promptly ordered to
rescind it. They did.
As for parents who formally object to the scout's policy,
Shields, the spokesman for the national Boy Scouts, said, "certainly
we don't revoke membership of people for having divergent
However, he said, "taking action directly contrary to the
national policy would draw a little different" response.
Even last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting
homosexual rights is not swaying the Boy Scouts.
Just recently, Venture Crew 488 of Sebastopol, in the redwoods of
northern California, learned how strongly the Scouts believe in
The crew, a Boy Scout high-adventure unit for teens and young
adults, was sponsored by the Kiwanis and led by Bev Buswell, a true
Buswell, who sells real estate as her regular job, was assistant
scoutmaster, merit badge counselor, activity chair and
Her son is an Eagle Scout, and Scouting, Buswell said, is the
second-most important influence on her son. Family is first.
After the Supreme Court decision upholding the Boy Scouts, she
decided that "this is a good organization" that she was going to
stay with, but make some noise.
She wrote to the executives of the Boy Scouts of America,
suggesting that they choose their Scout leaders based on strengths.
She'd had a unimpressive assistant scoutmaster, and it had nothing
to do with his sexual preference.
He had to "leave the meeting about five times for a cigarette,
reeked of smoke, carried the same never-cleaned coffee cup for
years," she wrote. "Apparently, he was morally straight."
Scouting for All posted her letter on its Web site, with all the
others from like-minded parents. Contacted to inquire how Venture
Crew 488 is doing, Buswell said she had bad news.
She said publicly for the first time, to The Providence Journal,
that her Venture crew had lost its charter.
For a letter? Well, no, she explained.
In December, she had "upped the ante." When she sent her annual
charter application to the Redwood Empire Council, she attached a
resolution saying she would not follow the Boy Scouts' rule on gay
scouts and leaders. She was told if she wanted to keep her venture
crew, she would need to take back her statement. She wouldn't.
In a recent phone interview, Mike Randolph, a district executive
for the Redwood Council, confirmed that Buswell's charter had been
revoked. The council had enforced the national policy. "There's no
other option," he said.
Randolph said he did give Buswell an option to be part of a
separate Boy Scout program that offers after-school programs and
career training. It's not "traditional Scouting," he said.
"I gave Bev" that option, Randolph said, but "got no
Asked if it was hard to lose a longtime Scout like Buswell, whose
father was the scoutmaster of her brother's troop, Randolph said:
"We're comforted by a number of surveys indicating that the majority
of American parents support our position, which of course has been
upheld by the Supreme Court."
Buswell is disappointed. She had hoped to be the "inner movement,
the change from within. Or are we slowly getting thrown out one by
"We've got a kid with two moms," she said. "I mean, what do I
tell this kid?"
The Narragansett Council has made no moves to revoke the charters
of its two dissenting troops in Providence. Asked to comment on the
troops, a spokesman for the council provided a statement, which said
that the organization is "disheartened" by the Boy Scout of
America's refusal to "thoroughly and completely review" its rule
concerning gays. The council has also formally requested a
Dennison, the assistant scoutmaster of Troop 28, said that behind
the scenes, the Narragansett Council is protecting his troop and
Pack 88 - and would rather they keep quiet.
"They are uncomfortable. They don't really want to us to talk to
the press," he said. "They believe that if we talk to the press ...
they are going to get pilloried by national." Dennison, however,
does not believe the national organization will bother with troops
in more liberal places such as Providence.
"They're basically trying to submerge the issue, because they
realize they're not going to win."
But civil rights and ideological debates seem far away on a June
night at the Central Congregational Church.
During the Eagle Scout ceremony, the boys walk up toward a stage
decorated in red, white and blue, put three fingers up, and recite
the Scout Law in unison.
The "troop historian" recaps the year, dryly explaining how he
learned, the messy way, with a can of ravioli and a big fire, a
physics law about how heated things tend to expand.
Cicilline, on the stage next to an American flag, tells the
Scouts what has worked for him: finding a passion, being conscious
of his responsibility to society, and fighting for what he believes
in, even if it's difficult.
As the night ends, and two boys are fooling around on an old
Steinway in the church hall, there are three new Eagle Scouts
heading into the world.
Prepared for life, Dennison likes to think.
After all, he said, there's a good chance they'll go to work for
a big organization that's been "led awry" by its leaders.
"Do you stay and fight or do you drop out? Do you just go along
and get your Eagle and be quiet?" he said. "What is your
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