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NY Scouts oppose group’s anti-gay agenda

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City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria)...

By Dustin Brown

The Greater New York Council of the Boy Scouts of America will publicly oppose the national organization’s policy of excluding homosexuals, representatives of the group told a city council hearing Monday.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) coordinated meetings with the New York Boy Scouts in anticipation of Monday’s hearings, which were held to evaluate the city’s relationship with the organization. BSA’s exclusionary policies have caused many community and government organizations to withhold funding from the group.

Two city agencies have restricted their dealings with the Scouts because of the parent organization’s bias against homosexuals.

“I have made my position on this issue very clear,” Vallone said in a statement read at the hearing. “New York City should not provide support or funding of any kind to any organization that discriminates against persons on the basis of sexual preference.”

BSA’s national policy prohibiting membership of “avowed homosexuals” was upheld in a narrow U.S. Supreme Court decision in which five justices said the organization had the right to exclude gay members because accepting them would contradict the group’s expressive message. The ruling was issued last June.

Monday’s hearings concluded with the New York chapter of BSA agreeing to publicly oppose the national policy disallowing homosexuals.

“The Greater New York Council of the Boy Scouts of America within 120 days will openly express their dissatisfaction with the national office’s program of discrimination,” said Nina Blackwell, spokeswoman for Vallone.     

Vallone met with representatives of the New York Boy Scouts on Jan. 4, which led to a meeting between Dan Gasparo, chief executive officer of the Greater New York Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and openly gay City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez (D-Manhattan), who introduced the resolution calling for Monday’s hearings.

Although Scouts can still use school buildings after hours, the Board of Education and the New York City Housing Authority withdrew their sponsorship of Boy Scout troops after the Supreme Court decision.

But the New York City Police Department and the Department of Corrections still sponsor Law Enforcement Exploring, a career program run by Learning for Life, a wholly owned subsidiary of BSA, which has its own anti-discriminatory policy.

The hearings were convened by the Council’s Committee on Contracts to evaluate whether the city is violating its own anti-discriminatory policies and human rights laws through its association with the BSA, specifically its sponsorship of the Exploring program.

According to the Learning for Life position statement, “color, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background, economic status or citizenship are not criteria for participation.”

Gasparo told the committee that Exploring is “open to all people,” and that all Learning for Life programs are offered “with absolutely no membership restrictions.”

“It seems hasty to throw away a program that is open to everyone and that provides an important service to the community as long as we are still working to responsibly address our national policy as it applies to our faith-based programs,” he said.

However, several people said at the hearing that the Boy Scouts and the Exploring program are one-and-the-same.

“The BSA clearly and proudly discriminates against homosexuals, and the argument by the BSA that the Explorer and Learning for Life programs do not discriminate against homosexuals is false,” said Scott Pusillo, northeast region director of Scouting for All.

Gasparo’s comments at the hearing revealed an ideological rift between the New York branch of the BSA and its national leadership.

“We need a policy that is acceptable for all New Yorkers and a policy that is completely free of any discrimination,” Gasparo said at the hearings. “But again the policy that needs fixing has absolutely no connection with any of the programs that we offer through city agencies.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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