Backlash Over Scouts' Ban on Gays

July 20, 2000 -- The Boy Scouts won their case on barring homosexuals in the highest U.S. court, but members, lawmakers and funding agencies are now pressuring them to change their policy.

“The Boy Scouts may have won the battle, but they’re losing the war,” says Eagle Scout and gay activist Kirk Thomas.

Thomas, who was awarded his Eagle badge more than 20 years ago, is now a member of Scouting for All, a movement of current and former scouts and their families who are coming forward to pressure the Boy Scouts to reverse their position on homosexuality.

The group is one element in a range of efforts to put pressure on the organization, including revocation of funding by several regional United Way bodies, and efforts to revoke the Boy Scouts’ ceremonial Congressional charter.

Though it is difficult to gauge the overall reaction to the decision among those in the scouting community, it is clear that critics of the Scouts’ policy on gays have become more vocal since.

Citing the Scouts’ policy on gays, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., introduced legislation on Wednesday to revoke the Boy Scouts’ symbolic Congressional charter, an honorary recognition given to patriotic, charitable and education organizations.

“It will be symbolic. It will be a statement. The statement will be that federal government doesn’t support intolerance,” said Woolsey. She acknowledged the legislation is unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, but said she felt compelled to act nonetheless.

“I think that charter implies that we then agree with this discrimination and intolerance, and I don’t want the federal government to support intolerance.”

Scouts Speaking Out

Woolsey’s legislation was prompted by lobbying from a young constituent, Eagle Scout Steven Cozza, who founded Scouting for All in 1997, when he was 12. “A lot of my friends were gay, and a lot of my role models are gay. And I couldn’t believe that they weren’t allowed to be in scouting just because they were gay,” Cozza told Good Morning America earlier this month, explaining why he founded the group.

Since the Supreme Court’s June decision in Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, which overturned a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling last year that the Boy Scouts’ policy of excluding gays violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws, Scouting for All has received “hundreds and hundreds of e-mails,” says Steven’s father, Scott Cozza, who is president of the group.

The group believes that the court’s ruling focused the attention of the scouting community on the issue, and has shown that a large number of those involved in scouting support their position.

“We’re sort of at a crossroads. We’ve always maintained people should stay in scouting and work from within. But we’re sort of at the point where if your local office won’t have a policy of inclusiveness then maybe it’s time to get out,” says Scouting for All member Linda Hodges, whose two sons are scouts.

On Monday, Andrew Kusmin, a Massachusetts man who became an Eagle Scout in 1963, announced he was resigning from the Scouts, and sending in his Eagle badge. Though he is not gay himself, Kusmin said he was “mad and sad” about the Scouts’ policy on gays.

On Tuesday, Kevin Peter, a 36-year-old Eagle Scout told the Philadelphia Inquirer he had also quit the organization and sent his Eagle badge to the Boy Scouts’ national headquarters in protest as well.

‘A Minuscule Number of Resignations’

Conservative groups are downplaying the scope of the opposition to the court’s ruling, however.

“The number of Eagle Scouts turning their badges is insignificant. It’s minuscule compared to all the Eagle Scouts out there who like the ruling,” says Bob Knight of the Family Resource Council, a conservative advocacy group.

“I do worry about a few jurisdictions where gay activists can put pressure on officials and kick the scouts out but its going to be very few,” he said.

Gregg Shields, the Boy Scouts’ national spokesman, says their expanding membership is evidence of broad support for the organization and its policies.

“We’ve grown 7 percent in the last three years,” says Shields. Some 6.2 million Americans are involved in the organization’s programs.

Shields acknowledged that the Boy Scouts, founded 90 years ago, had received “a few” badges sent in protest by scouts, but had also seen substantial numbers of letters and calls of support.

“We respect other peoples opinions and simply ask other people to respect ours,” he said.

Blocking the Scouts’ Funding

The United Way of Southeastern New England, one of the charitable organization’s 1,400 regional groups in the United States, announced Tuesday that they would cut funding for groups that discriminate against gays, including the Boy Scouts.

The move was not specifically intended to cut off funding for the Boy Scouts, said Steve Connors, a spokesman for the regional group. But he noted that the decision was largely due to outcry over a Rhode Island Eagle Scout leader who was fired by the organization when he said publicly that he was gay.

The group’s move threatens the $200,000 they annually give the organization for its Scoutreach program, which provides outdoors education for inner city children.

“It’s not intended as a veiled threat to the Boy Scouts in any sense. But we’re a private organization in the community, too,” which has to make its own decisions about what values to support, he stressed.

Since 1992, regional United Way organizations in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, New Haven, Santa Fe, Portland, Maine, Somerset N.J. have cut funding to groups that do not provide equal services to homosexuals. Nationwide, the United Way provides $83 million in funding to the Boy Scouts annually.

Scouting for All plans a series of national rallies for next month, which they hope will increase pressure on the Boy Scouts’ national leadership.

“We haven’t given up yet,” says Scouting for All member Kirk Thomas.

ABCNEWS’ Bob Woodruff contributed to this report.