News (USA)

Boy Scouts oust first openly gay Scoutmaster since welcoming gay youth

Elaine Thompson, APGeoff McGrath points out an
Elaine Thompson, AP
Geoff McGrath points out an “inclusive scouting” badge worn on his Boy Scout scoutmaster uniform shirt for the Seattle troop he led, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Bellevue, Wash. The Boys Scouts of America has removed McGrath, an openly gay troop leader, after saying he made an issue out of his sexual orientation.

SEATTLE — The Boy Scouts of America on Monday booted an openly gay Scoutmaster, believed to be the first openly gay leader to be ousted since the BSA voted last year to accept openly gay scouts, but maintain a ban on gay and lesbian leaders.

BSA’s Chief Seattle Council severed ties with Geoff McGrath, 49, a former Eagle Scout and scout leader who helped found the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church Boy Scout Troop 98, reported NBC News.

Until Monday, McGrath believed himself to be the only openly gay Scoutmaster in the nation, having won approval last fall to run a troop despite the organization’s ban against gay adults.

Elaine Thompson, APGeoff McGrath displays a vintage Boy Scout Handbook given him as a gift by one of the boys in the Seattle troop he led, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Bellevue, Wash.
Elaine Thompson, AP
Geoff McGrath displays a vintage Boy Scout Handbook given him as a gift by one of the boys in the Seattle troop he led, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Bellevue, Wash.

McGrath said he didn’t hide his sexual orientation from Scouting leaders, but Seattle’s top BSA official told NBC News that she never knew he was gay.

“It’s extremely disappointing to not be fully supported and defended in my membership,” McGrath said. “They are complaining that the problem [his status as an openly gay man] is a distraction to Scouting and they don’t seem to understand that the distraction is self-inflicted.”

BSA spokesman Deron Smith said that it wasn’t until an inquiry from the press that the organisation was aware of McGrath’s sexual orientation.

“Our policy is that we do not ask people about their sexual orientation, and it’s not an issue until they deliberately inject it into Scouting in an inappropriate fashion,” said Smith.

The BSA has no plans to review its membership policy on gay adults, Smith said on Monday.

“The Boy Scouts claims that Geoff was looking to advance a ‘personal agenda.’ The only agenda Geoff was advancing was that of the Boy Scouts’ Vision – to prepare youth to become responsible leaders through the Scouting program,” said Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro, pastor at Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the troop’s charter partner.

“This is a nonissue here. We’ve gotten no complaints from parents,” she said. “He decided to tell his story to somebody is why he’s getting in trouble.”

Eagle Scout and Scouts for Equality co-founder Zach Wahls said that by ousting McGrath, the BSA is “telling all their youth that discrimination is okay.”

“That’s a harmful message for all youth, gay and straight alike, and it has no place in Scouting,” said Wahls, in a statement.

The United Methodist Church is the Boy Scouts’ second largest chartered sponsor, accounting for more than 10,000 units and 363,000 youth nationwide.

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Rainier Beach UMC is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, made up of over 600 United Methodist communities across the country who welcome and affirm LGBT people. There are over 70 other Scouting units chartered to Reconciling Congregations throughout the United States.

McGrath, a software engineer who married his longtime partner in 2008 in California, grew up in Seattle. He was a Cub Scout, became a Boy Scout at 11, and with his twin brother earned Eagle Scout rank before turning 18.

“Scouting was the best part of our youth and adolescence,” McGrath said, adding that he, his brother and his dad went to the woods and canoed, and he climbed Mount Rainier for the first time at age 13. “Adolescence was a hard time, but that wasn’t. That was uncomplicated and wonderful in every way.”

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