LAPD Ends Relationship with Boy Scouts, Cites Anti-Gay Policy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday December 28, 2009

A youth program associated with the Los Angeles Police Department will no longer be affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, due to the BSA's policy of excluding gays, atheists, and agnostics.

The Explorer's Program, which the Boy Scouts created in 1949, has served since 1962 as a means of giving youth interested in law enforcement practical experience by allowing them to assist the LAPD with crowd monitoring, clerical work, and other tasks. But now the program is set to be re-vamped, dropping both its old name and its last ties to the BSA, which has provided insurance to participants through its Learning for Life program, reported an article posted Dec. 22 at Daybreeze.com.

But the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gays, atheists, and agnostics clashes with the city's non-discrimination policies, and the Police Commission has determined that the LAPD will no longer associate with Learning for Life. The new program will commence on Jan. 1, 2010, and will rely in part on donations.

"It's bittersweet in the sense that the Boy Scouts or Learning for Life have been part of this for a long time--in name only--but the LAPD is committed to a better program and we can do that without having discrimination," Police Commissioner Alan Skobin said.

Openly gay Police Commissioner Robert Salzman said that the new program, which he has helped devise, would be "as good or--I'm confident--better than the program it replaces."

Continued Salzman, "The Boy Scouts are clear that they discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity and religion, and the result of that is I could not be active on the Boy Scouts."

The Boy Scouts have defended their exclusion policy, taking the battle to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the group's right, as a private organization, to determine who may belong. But the group has continued to generate controversy, since it is in some cases entwined with city programs.

The Boy Scouts' chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, told the Associated Press recently that, "We do have folks who say we probably should rethink this." The Boy Scouts of America will celebrate its centennial in February, 2010; said Mazzuca, "We can agree to disagree on a particular issue and still come together for the common good."

For all the organization's emphasis on leadership and ethical integrity, however, Mazzuca indicated that the Scouts were in no hurry to update their policies. "This issue is going on in every nook and cranny of our country," Mazzuca said. "We're just not at the point where we're going to be leading on this."

Said Lambda Legal's Kevin Cathcart, referring to the 2000 Supreme Court decision, "The world has changed immensely in these past nine years and the Scouts appear not to have changed at all."

Said David Niose, who serves as the president of The American Humanist Association, "The Boy Scouts are synonymous with American values and patriotism--like motherhood and apple pie. By excluding atheists and secular Americans, they are essentially saying we cannot be good citizens."

It's not just social attitudes that are changing; how people connect, stay in contact, and influence one another's views also are in flux, as young people grow up with cell phones, text messaging, and the Internet. Said Mazzuca, "We've been slow to realize the changing landscape of how people form their opinions." The AP article said that BSA is now delving into social media such as Twitter and Facebook to plug into youth culture.

"One of the magic parts of this adventure is that none of the bedrock things that made us who we are have to change for us to be more relevant and dynamic," Mazzuca said.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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