Boy Scouts of America Revokes Church’s Charter After Church Stands with Openly Gay Scoutmaster

by HRC Staff

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, is calling on the Boy Scouts of America to end its longstanding discriminatory ban on gay adults in Scouting and reinstate Rainier Beach United Methodist Church’s charter. In March, BSA leaders fired Geoff McGrath, 49, leader of Troop 98 in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood after he came out as gay in an NBC News report. McGrath’s troop’s meetings were held weekly at Rainier Beach United Methodist Church. After his firing, the church stood by him and McGrath continued to lead the troop. Now, BSA leaders have revoked the church’s charter.

“Banning a caring Scoutmaster who has dedicated his time and efforts to helping young men grow into adults of integrity is a moral outrage,” said Jeremy Pittman, HRC’s deputy field director and an Eagle Scout. “Leaders at Rainier Beach United Methodist Church put young people first and denounced discrimination.  Now they are paying the price as BSA clings to its outdated policies.”  

In a letter to Mr. McGrath, BSA leaders rely on the same thinking behind the U.S. Military’s now repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, writing, “[i]f a volunteer makes an issue out of his or her sexual orientation – especially to the youth we serve –  then that volunteer is no longer eligible for to be a registered leader. That has been part of the adult leadership qualifications for many years.”  Next month, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will take the helm of BSA.  Leaders at Rainier Beach UMC are hoping Gates will overturn BSA’s decision and reinstate both McGrath as a scoutmaster and the church’s charter. 

The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the  number of scouting troops sponsored.

“We applaud the steadfast way Rainer Beach UMC has stood behind its troop leadership,” said Dr. Sharon Groves, director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program.  “In doing so, they have provided a profile in courage for faith communities around the country.” 

This is not the first time an openly gay Scoutmaster has been banned by the organization.  In April 2012, Ohio mom Jennifer Tyrrell launched a petition calling on the Boy Scouts of America to end its national ban on gay scouts, parents, and scout leaders after she was ousted as her son's den leader because she is gay. She sparked a campaign led by GLAAD and Scouts for Equality to advocate for an inclusive BSA, which has resulted in several corporate sponsors withholding funds as well as hundreds of celebrities, elected officials, scouts and religious institutions speaking out against the ban.

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced more stringent criteria for its Corporate Equality Index. To receive a perfect score in the future, companies would have to prohibit philanthropic giving to non-religious organizations that have a written policy of anti-gay discrimination, or permit its chapters, affiliates, or troops to do so.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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