Gay-Friendly Alternative to Boy Scouts Doubles in Size in a Year
A group that's an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America says its membership has doubled in the last year, according to Mother Jones.
In pointed contrast to the much larger and older BSA, the organizers of Navigators USA give as its mission to "welcome all people, no matter what gender, race, lifestyle, ability, religious or lack of religious belief." What they're saying in effect is that the group does not exclude members of the LGBT community, girls and atheists. The BSA has been the center of controversy ever since 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it could legally bar gay scouts and scoutmasters from participating.
"We knew the Boy Scouts excluded gays when we started, but we thought that was one of the old, outdated rules on its way off the books," Bryan Freed told Mother Jones. "We told our 8-year-old son Nathan what we thought of the official BSA rule on excluding gays, and we let him decide." The Freeds left the Boy Scouts to join the Navigators' Los Altos, Calif., chapter, after the BSA reaffirmed the gay ban last summer.
Robin Bosset, a former scoutmaster, founded the Navigators in 2003 with just 19 chapters. It has since grown to 45 chapter in 21 states. Tony Porterfield, a chapter leader in Los Altos, told Mother Jones that the group keeps expanding at the rate of about two chapters per month. Each chapter has eight to 12 members. In total, about 600 kids have enrolled in the program.
"For the most part, Navigators participate in the same kinds of activities that Boy Scouts do: camping, organic farming, hiking, tie-dying, excursions to museums, and community service," Mother Jones reports. The group has openly gay chapter leaders, board leaders and co-members.
"We wanted our two sons to take part in scouting," Porterfield said. "We wanted to do that within an organization that reflects our family's values. Inclusiveness and respect for others is part of the Navigators program and something we discuss directly with our children."
According to Mother Jones, LGBT issues are "covered in age-appropriate language, with the conversation focusing on the importance of treating everyone with respect."
When Freed asked his son which organization he wanted to join, he posed the question as, "Gay people are men who want to marry men, or women who want to marry women. Most families have one mommy and one daddy, but that is not always the case. And the Boy Scouts do not let gay people join their group."
There are other groups similar to Navigators, but they are even smaller. While Navigators may be the largest alternative to the BSA, the older group dwarfs it in size. BSA has 2.6 million members. But BSA membership has been on the decline: There were 2.8 million members in 2011, but that dropped by 100,000 the next year. Since 1999, BSA has dropped by a third. BSA has also been plagued by continuing sex-abuse scandals, as well as boys' waning interest in scouting in general.
BSA has been making headlines recently for removing gay scouts at various levels as well as lesbian and gay scoutmasters. Several organizations and businesses that have a blanket policy of not supporting any group that openly discriminates have stopped supporting BSA as a result.
California's state legislature is considering a bill that would make the organization ineligible for tax breaks, the Associated Press reported. Philadelphia is only the largest city that has attempted to ban the Boy Scouts from using its facilities because of the policy.
The BSA's executive council is scheduled to revisit the policy next month. Even if it is overturned, however, individual troops will probably retain the option to keep the old policy.