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Veteran, son biking 1,800 miles for gay Scouts

Published May 7, 2013 4:48 pm

Discrimination • Ex-soldier, son take their message of tolerance to a national meeting.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During his military career, Dave McGrath wore the uniform of a U.S. Army Ranger and patrolled the demilitarized zone separating North and South Koreas.

This week, as he passed through Salt Lake City on his 1,800-mile bicycle trek from Idaho Falls to Irving, Texas, he wore his scoutmaster uniform — in hopes of bridging the gulf between gay Scouts and the 100-year-old organization.

McGrath's son is riding beside him.

"As a soldier in the U.S. Army, I am proud that they no longer discriminate [against gay and lesbian soldiers] and believe that it is high time the Boy Scouts does the same," said Army Spc. Joe McGrath, 21, who recently returned from serving in Kuwait.

In 2011, the federal government ended its "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gay people from openly serving in the military.

Now, the Boy Scouts of America is tackling the same issue. The Great Salt Lake Council based in Salt Lake City, one of the nation's largest BSA groups, is expected to issue a statement Wednesday about the national proposal, which would allow gay Scouts but not gay adult leaders.

Dozens of Utah Scout representatives will be voting on that proposal in Irving, Texas, the BSA national headquarters, on May 24.

McGrath is one of many drawing attention to the issue of greater gay inclusion into American society.

For the father-son team, the matter is personal. McGrath, 48, has an identical twin brother who is gay, as well as two gay children. Raised in the LDS Church, which has a long history of sponsorship and leadership with the Boy Scouts, McGrath earned his Eagle Scout badge and served as a scoutmaster for nearly 20 years on three continents: in Germany, where he served on his church mission; Korea, where he served in the military; and Idaho Falls, his hometown.

In other countries, where the Boy Scouts are not so closely tied to churches, gay Scouts and leaders are accepted, McGrath said.

"Gays participate in Canada, Mexico, Britain and the Philippines," McGrath said. "All I ever wanted to be was a Boy Scout. The proposed policy [to allow gay Scouts but exclude gay leaders] was the minimum and I wanted full inclusion. Under the current discriminatory policy, my Eagle [Scout badge] is worth nothing."

The McGraths will bike an average of 100 miles per day, connecting with supporters and friends along the way. They said they will keep the Scout Law in mind: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

On Sunday, in front of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, McGrath and a dozen supporters made their plea for gay inclusion, for being obedient but not a doormat, and for keeping a sense of humor, even when discussing serious subjects.

Their bicycles formed a semicircle, with the Salt Lake Temple's gothic spires in the background. Curious passersby in Sunday suits and dresses stopped for a few seconds before sauntering down South Temple.

"I'm here to call out institutions that are actively discriminating against our children and our families," McGrath said. "My favorite institution is the Boy Scouts of America. I was a Boy Scout, I was a Cub Scout, I was a Webelo Scout, I was a Varsity Scout, I was an Explorer, and I was a scoutmaster for almost 20 years.

"The Boy Scouts of America has a policy in place that discriminates against anyone who they know is gay. If they know you are gay, they use words like openly and avowed. If they know you are gay, you are out of there."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that as a private organization, the BSA has the legal right to deny or revoke the membership of gay members.

But the policy has continued to draw controversy, even rising to the level of presidential politics in 2012: Both President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney said they opposed the ban on gay Scouts.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the largest sponsor in the nation, with the Boy Scouts making up a large part of its youth program. This mirrors other churches — including Methodist, Catholic and Lutheran churches — which together make up about 60 percent of Scout troops.

LDS Church officials have said in a statement they are "satisfied" with the latest BSA proposal to allow gay youths but exclude gay adults.

Jamison Manwaring grew up with seven siblings in a traditional Mormon home in Idaho Falls, where he went through the Scouting program. He continues to attend church, but now in Salt Lake City, and now as a gay man.

He created a YouTube video in March to come out to his extended friends and family, which includes about 100 cousins, one of whom had McGrath as his Scoutmaster in Idaho Falls.

Manwaring said it's better for all to know if their Scout leaders are gay, instead of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "Let's be transparent," he said.

Allan Sumnall of Orem went to Brigham Young University and was a roommate of Geoff McGraff, McGraff's twin. Sumnall said Geoff came out to him while at BYU and that it had an impact.

"There's no such thing as too much tolerance," said Sumnall, who joined the father-son team as they rode through Salt Lake City.