Boy Scout leaders chastised for marching in Utah Pride Parade
Two weeks ago, Boy Scout leaders Peter Brownstein, Neil Whitaker and a handful of Scouts marched in the Utah Pride Parade, celebrating the organization's historic May vote to allow gay youths.
This week, officials with the Great Salt Lake Council called the two men in, pointed out a photo published by The Salt Lake Tribune showing Whitaker at the parade and told them both to sign an apology for "violation of (Boys Scouts of America) policies and disobedience."
Leaders cited BSA policy that prohibits using Scouting to promote a political agenda.
Whitaker and others said they were not advancing a "political" agenda but celebrating a "cultural" event, not unlike the Days of '47 Parade that honors Utah pioneers annually on July 24 and often includes Boy Scouts in uniform.
"We weren't rallying for a politician or political event," Whitaker said. "To me, it was being supportive of my fellow human beings."
The men refused to sign the apology letter, which warned them a similar future offense could lead to the revocation of their Scouting membership.
Whitaker and others wore their Boy Scout uniforms, which Rick Barnes, Scout executive of the council, had warned them would be in violation of BSA policy.
"We were very disappointed that you used Scouting to advance the gay agenda at the Utah Pride Parade on Sunday in Salt Lake City," Barnes and Council President Bry Davis wrote to Brownstein.
Brownstein, who was not in the photo, had marched but did not wear his uniform. Barnes and Davis apparently assumed he had worn it.
"It has always been BSA's policy that no person, youth or adult may use Scouting to promote sexual orientation or any other political or social agenda," the letter said. "You and others are welcome to participate in the parade as supportive citizens but not as uniformed members of the BSA."
Barnes declined to be interviewed, saying he had made his points in the letter.
Valerie Larabee, executive director of Utah Pride Center, which organizes the parade, criticized the council's reaction in a statement.
"Like the Days of '47 Parade, which commemorates the journey and struggle of Mormons as they arrived from across the Plains so many years ago, the Utah Pride Festival commemorates the journey and progress of the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning] community, a community that has also endured a long history of being marginalized, victimized and oppressed," she said.
"Any discipline or questioning of members of the Scouting family who participated in our procession as a member of our color guard, a unit carrying our nation's flag, would be deplorable."
Brownstein, a longtime Scout leader, agreed.
"The essence of the (Pride) parade, widely considered a cultural celebration much like the Days of '47 Parade, promotes acceptance of cultural diversity," Brownstein wrote to Davis and Barnes. "Salt Lake County has a policy similar to that of the BSA in that county agencies are prohibited from promoting any political agenda."
Brownstein then quoted Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill from a June 12 Tribune story.
"Our initial take is that it is not a partisan event and does not constitute a political agency," Gill said. "County agencies have participated in multiple events to promote a service and do community outreach."
Deron Smith, national BSA public-relations director, did not return a call but responded with an email that said, "These individuals (who wore uniforms in the parade), many of whom are not registered in Scouting, expressed a personal opinion and do not represent the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting is taking appropriate steps to respond to this issue."
Former Scoutmaster Dave McGrath, who lives in Idaho Falls, participated in uniform in the Utah Pride Parade. In early May, the former U.S. Army Ranger passed through Salt Lake City on his 1,800-mile bicycle trek from Idaho Falls to Irving, Texas, garnering support for changes to the BSA policies on gay youths and men.
McGrath said he will present the colors, as he did in Utah, on Saturday during the Boise Pride Festival and Parade. He said he can't understand the BSA backlash from the Utah parade.
"Boy Scouts do political events all the time, you present the colors and then you get off the stage," McGrath said. "And that's what we did in the (Utah Pride) parade."