Boys Scouts Move Troop, Pack From Seattle Church

April 21, 2014       Zach Halper      

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) revoked the charter of one of its Seattle affiliates after the group refused to remove an openly gay Scoutmaster from his leadership position, potentially setting up another showdown on the role of gay members in the Scouts.

BSA has found a new organization to sponsor Scout Troop 98 and Pack 98, and the parents of the units have been notified of the change. BSA did not immediately respond when asked to identify the organization.

BSA first notified Ranier Beach United Methodist Church (RBUMC), which sponsored Scout Troop 98 and Pack 98, on March 31 that Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath must be removed from that position due to the organizations’ policy that bans openly gay adult members. RBUMC subsequently notified the Dallas, Texas headquartered organization that it would be standing by McGrath.

“Based on our religious principles, we will continue to act as an autonomous church that does not discriminate,” said Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro, head of RBUMC. “We will continue to have our troop meetings here, every Thursday night, with business as usual.”

In response to RBUMC’s decision, BSA notified the church in a letter dated April 17 that both its Scout Troops would no longer be officially recognized and could no longer offer officially- sanctioned Scouting programs. In a statement released today, BSA Director of Communications Deron Smith said the organization is “saddened” to make its decision but leaders believe it needed to be done since RBUMC violated its terms by retaining McGrath as Scoutmaster.

“Because the church no longer agrees to the terms of the BSA chartered organization agreement, which includes following BSA policies, it is no longer authorized to offer the Scouting program,” said Smith.

“The BSA does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation; we remain focused on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training,” added Smith via a statement.

McGrath first made headlines after he acknowledged his sexuality in March after NBC aired a story about the troop’s inclusiveness. It was not long after that acknowledgment that the Boy Scouts requested that McGrath’s leadership be revoked.

“I’m stunned and disappointed to hear the news,” said McGrath via a statement. “Pastor Corsaro specifically sought out someone with my Scouting background to help get these units off the ground, and her church is now being told to violate their religious convictions. It’s unconscionable and irreverent.”

BSA’s actions comes almost one year after the organization reworked its longstanding policies towards gay members. In May 2013, the organization’s board of directors voted to allow gay youth to be scouts but opted to retain its ban on gay and lesbian adults. This decision has prompted a number of corporate sponsors to drop its support for BSA, with Disney being the most recent company to jump ship.

As noted in a story in The NonProfit Times, other notable companies to drop their support due to BSA’s stance on gays include Lockheed Martin, UPS, Caterpillar, Major League Soccer (MLS), Merck, and Intel.

Support for McGrath in Seattle has been fairly united so far. In addition to Rev. Corsaro continuing to voice her support, the entire Seattle City Council and 20 Washington State legislators signed a letter supporting RBUMC’s decision. Numerous gay rights groups have also released statements raising objections to BSA’s decision.

Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, said that organization gave itself a “self-inflicted wound” by revoking RBUMC’s charter. “The Boy Scouts’ decisions only serve to hurt a group of boys who need the values and leadership of someone like Scoutmaster McGrath,” said Wahls. “Unfortunately, the BSA’s decision calls into question its commitment to leadership and values by perpetuating an outmoded policy rooted in fear and discrimination.”

“That the Boy Scouts of America would punish a church and the young people of Troop 98 because the church’s core values emphasize fairness and equality for all of God’s children is simply unconscionable,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of New York City-based GLAAD. “The fact that the Boy Scouts of America chose Easter weekend to once again blatantly discriminate against gay and lesbian people, as well as the churches that support them, flies in the face of the values of Scouting and sends a hurtful message to youth.”

Corsaro said that the church has hired the law firm Friedman-Rubin though she hasn’t yet decided if the church will pursue legal action against BSA.

“In light of the BSA’s decision to infringe on our religious liberties, sending us such discriminatory communication on Good Friday, we have acquired legal council to assess our options,” said Corsaro.