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Lesbian Moms Rejected by Cub Scouts

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Dec 30, 2009
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A Vermont couple whose son has been a cub scout for years were told they may not volunteer for the troupe because the organization, they were told, doesn’t want them, "pushing your lifestyle on the boys."

Elizabeth and Cate Wirth say that although their son Dylan has been a Cub Scout for several years and they have volunteered their time for the troupe on past occasions, when they disclosed their relationship to a scout leader they were summarily rejected, reported Vermont newspaper the Rutland Herald on Dec. 30.

Cate Wirth described herself as "taken aback" at the response that she and her life partner Elizabeth received from the group’s district director, Erik Tanney. The women have long been in a civil union.

"I was speechless," Cate Wirth told the newspaper. The troupe had been looking for parents to volunteer, the article said, but despite the Wirth’s past involvement Tanney turned them down as soon as they informed him of their family status.

The Cub Scouts is part of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which has a policy of excluding gays and lesbians, as well as atheists and agnostics. The policy is legal--the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, to exclude whomever they please--but remains controversial, especially in situations where the organization makes use of public buildings such as schools.

The Los Angeles Police Department recently announced that they, as part of the municipality, would no longer maintain an affiliation with a Boy Scouts of America subsidiary organization with respect to a youth program for kids interested in law enforcement. The LAPD cited the group’s anti-gay policy as the reason.

The BSA was founded 100 years ago and there are plans for the group to celebrate its centenary in February. But there is as yet no sign that the organization is preparing to update its attitudes toward GLBT Americans and their families.

The traditional policy was in full force when the Wirths, who attended a meeting with Tanney to discuss parents volunteering for troupe activities, abruptly found themselves shunned. The mothers had expressed interest in participating in outdoor activities for the troupe, asking Tanney about receiving any training that they might need to have.

But then, said Cate Wirth, she and Elizabeth thought they should clarify their relationship to Tanney. "As we were starting to leave, I said to Elizabeth, given what we know about the Boy Scouts, we should tell him about us so we don’t run into something down the line," Cate Wirth told the newspaper. "I guess I was just being na├»ve."

Added Wirth, "I think we said something like, ’We wanted you to know we’re both Dylan’s moms, we’re a couple, and we wanted you to know that.’ We didn’t use the ’L’ word." They women had not made a secret of their relationship when volunteering before, but they had also not spelled it out. "A lot of people don’t think about it," Cate Wirth said." People think you’re sisters or something. It’s not in people’s consciousness."

Tanney’s response at that point was markedly different from what it had been. "Basically we can’t have you be in a leadership role, something like that," Cate Wirth said he told them, "because we wouldn’t want you to be pushing your lifestyle on the boys."

"I was so taken aback," Cate Wirth continued. "I think we just said, ’Wow,’ we didn’t really respond. We were really angry and we just left."

The Rutland Herald said that Tanney referred the media to Green Mountain Council Scout executive Richard Stockton, who told the newspaper, "That is the national policy.

"The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don’t accept gays and lesbians as volunteers." Stockton said that the Wirths’ previous work as volunteers did not conflict with their new status, in which the mothers are barred from volunteering. "We’re not an investigative authority. We don’t go out and search through the private lives of our leaders," said Stockton, explaining that the disclosure in itself made it necessary under BSA policy to bar the women from further volunteering. "The person they were talking to was an employee of the Council," said Stockton. "In his job, you have to adhere to all the membership standards."

Stockton also referred to the policy barring agnostics and atheists from participating in leadership roles, saying that while anyone was welcome to join in activities with their children, leadership and volunteer roles are closed to people who do not "believe in a higher being."

Cate Wirth went public Dec. 29 with a letter to the editor in local newspaper The Times Argus. "I was angry," she told Rutland Herald. "It just seemed so ridiculous. I wanted people to think about how absurd it is that we can be discriminated against."

"We’re trying to do the best we can for the families that join our program," Stockton told the newspaper. "If we’re the right organization for your family, wonderful. If we’re not the right program, we understand that, too."

For 10-year-old Dylan, the Cub Scouts still offers valuable opportunities even if his mothers are denied a more active role in the troupe. Said Cate Wirth, "I still think Scouts is a good thing for him because he doesn’t have a dad and he’s really drawn to a lot of stereotypical male stuff that Scouting does, outdoorsy stuff." Dylan’s mothers had not told him about the exchange, the article said. "I don’t want my personal issues to impact his life in that way," said Cate Wirth. "I was concerned if he knew about it he might be uncomfortable going."

Added Wirth, "Politically, if he weren’t a 10-year-old boy I’d feel differently about it. I wouldn’t support the organization. But his needs come first."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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