It was with mixed emotions that I read The Salt Lake Tribune's June 19 editorial, "GSLC and LGBT: Scouting's anti-gay agenda." I am scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 351, sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Utah.
As accurately reported in this newspaper, I have added my voice to those calling for the Boy Scouts of America to accept all boys and adults as members, irrespective of their sexual orientation, and have welcomed the recent change in the BSA's policy regarding youth members.
While I have been reprimanded by the Great Salt Lake Council for participating in our city's annual Pride Parade, and have been called upon by the council, as well as parents and others within my own Troop 351 family, to cease being an "advocate" for gay rights in my capacity as scoutmaster, I now find it necessary to correct what I perceive to be the fundamental misunderstanding underlying such decrees.
Admittedly, I irresolutely believe that any organization which bears the name "America" in its title should observe and practice, in all respects, the hallmarks of inclusivity and equality. That said, the actions for which I have been recently and roundly chastised, even threatened with expulsion from the Boy Scouts of America, were not as an advocate for gay rights, but first and foremost, as an advocate for Scouting.
Scouting is the finest youth development program in existence. All of my recent efforts, including my involvement in the Pride Parade, my calls for equality and my efforts to begin a new troop under the sponsorship of the Utah Pride Center, have been conducted with only one goal in mind: Make Scouting a part of more boys' lives.
As has been reported, youth membership in Scouting has been in steady decline in recent years. In the community in which I live and participate, there is no doubt that BSA policies regarding sexual orientation have caused boys, parents, schools and other civic groups to turn away from Scouting. Even before the recent change in BSA policy, it became evident to me that the creation of a troop sponsored by an entity like the Utah Pride Center would serve as a successful means to broaden Scouting's appeal to members of my community.
As readily demonstrated by the application recently submitted by the Utah Pride Center to the Great Salt Lake Council (in which I agreed to serve as scoutmaster and which fully complied with all existing BSA policies regarding the sexual orientation of its members), nine boys, whose families would not have otherwise permitted their sons to become scouts, asked to join the Boy Scouts of America, even before the recent change in the BSA's sexual-orientation policy. As I later learned, many more boys and families would have been enthusiastic participants in such a Scouting unit.
Tragically, because the application was misconstrued as merely an attempt to advance a "gay rights agenda," rather than more correctly, as a sincere means to advance Scouting in the community, the council denied that application.
Nonetheless, and in spite of those who may also shortsightedly desire my silence on certain issues and misconstrue my purposes, I will remain a fervent advocate for Scouting.
I hope to have the opportunity to meet with the Scouting leadership, the Young Men's leadership in the LDS Church, and others in our community to figure out how we can work together to make participation in Scouting more reflective of the distribution of our community.
I look forward to the day when all boys and families in our community will feel welcome in Scouting.
Peter Brownstein lives in Salt Lake City.