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Utah Pride Center not allowed to start Boy Scout troop

Published June 14, 2013 2:07 pm

Scouts • Scout council denies center's second bid despite historic vote allowing gay youths.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Eleven-year-old Kobe Whitaker said he had something specific in mind when he looked for a Boy Scout troop to join: It had to be progressive and inclusive.

Most troops in Utah are sponsored by churches, predominantly the LDS Church. And Kobe said he and his mother were concerned that some "are rude toward gay or non-Mormon people. We found one that's really supportive and there's a comfort level"

It's that sort of inclusive environment that Utah Pride Center officials said they were looking to create when they recently applied to charter a Boy Scout troop. But their request has been denied for a second time — despite the organization's historic vote in May to begin accepting gay youths in January.

After an initial denial, center officials applied a second time to the Great Salt Lake Council in the wake of the vote, reiterating that all leaders of the new troop would be straight adults in accordance with national rules. Many had held leadership positions in Episcopalian and Methodist churches.

"Having a BSA (Boy Scouts of America) troop affiliated with the Utah Pride Center offers tremendous advantages to minorities, youth of color, disenfranchised young men, and other marginalized demographics," center officials wrote.

They were told no deal in a letter they received this week, dated June 7.

"As we discussed several weeks ago, after reviewing your mission and comparing it to ours, we do not believe a partnership is in the best interest of your organization or Scouting," wrote Rick Barnes, Scout executive for Great Salt Lake Council, one of the largest in Utah overseeing about 75,000 youths.

Fifteen council representatives recently joined 1,400 voting members of the BSA National Council at a meeting in Texas on May 23, where a final vote approved allowing gay Scouts. The policy continues to exclude gay leaders.

Barnes offered this suggestion as an alternative to a Pride Center troop: "If you have youth who desire to be in the program, we are happy to invite them into one of our existing Scouting units."

But Valerie Larabee, Pride Center executive director, said that suggestion is unrealistic, partly because some youths are concerned they will not feel comfortable in a troop sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

She said a Utah Pride Center troop could have provided support to youths similar to troops run by the Tongan Community Service Center.

The Utah Pride Center is a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City that serves Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, including thousands of youths in programs such as the annual gay prom.

The troop denial and the continuing BSA ban of gay leaders fosters outdated stereotypes of gay men, said Charles Frost, Pride Center director of community engagement and awareness.

"We're not here recruiting people to be gay," Frost said, "but to help them grow up to be happy, healthy adults. There's inconsistencies in the new policy when at 18 you're supposed to be pedophile. When 18, be gone."

BSA national spokesman Deron Smith responded in an email: "As it does with each organization that requests a charter, Scouting thoughtfully reviewed this application. Based on the organization's mission, Scouting does not believe granting a charter is in the best interest of either group. Scouting is a youth program, and we are focused on serving kids."

The LDS Church supported the new Scouting policy allowing gay youths. Church leaders recently issued a letter titled, "Church Relationship with the Boy Scouts of America" to be read during Sunday services.

"The church will move forward in its association with Boy Scouts of America with a focus on strengthening young men in their role as bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood," reads the May 28 letter, signed by the Utah-based faith's governing First Presidency.

LDS leaders reaffirmed that young men who follow church standards, including abstaining from sexual relationships outside marriage, are "welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate" in church-sponsored Scouting activities.

Larabee said there are about 300 pride centers in the country, many running Girl Scout troops.

"We wanted a program where youth could build character, competencies and skills, where they feel safe and affirming," Larabee said.

Rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter@RayUtah —

Top civic and faith groups taking part

in the Boy Scouts of America

The top five faith-based chartered organizations based on youth membership in 2012:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • 430,557

United Methodist Church • 363,876

Catholic Church • 273,648

Presbyterian Church • 125,523

Lutheran Church • 116,417

The top five civic-based chartered organizations based on youth membership in 2012:

Educational organizations • 313,040

Groups of citizens • 100,751

American Legion & Auxiliary • 68,154

Businesses • 66,454

Lions International • 64,563

Source: BSA National Chartered Organizations Report —

The new policy

The resolution approved in May by the Boys Scouts of America reads: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."