Scouts for Equality Exec on National Gathering in Estes Park

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Scouts for Equality, a national nonprofit dedicated to overturning decades-long prohibitions against homosexuals in the Boy Scouts of America, will hold its national spring gathering in Estes Park this coming week, when members will discuss their agenda for continuing the fight in 2015 and beyond.

The BSA lifted its ban on gay scouts last year, but it continues to prohibit gay troop leaders or the involvement of gay parents.

The retreat comes at volatile time; on April 2, the BSA's New York chapter announced that it just hired the very first openly gay scout to serve as a summer camp leader, despite the national organization’s blanket ban.

SFE Executive Director Zach Wahls released this statement on the controversial hiring:

This is a watershed moment. For the first time in the history of the Boy Scouts, an openly gay adult will join their ranks as a camp counselor. Pascal Tessier was the first out gay scout, and now it appears that he will also be the first out gay leader.

But if the Boy Scouts of America National Council steps in to force the Greater New York Councils to rescind their offer to hire Pascal, it will represent a boldfaced example of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is illegal in New York State.

As the controversy swirling in Indiana, Arkansas, and elsewhere demonstrates, Americans are no longer willing to tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and we expect our leaders–and future leaders–to do the same.

We are proud to see such an important Boy Scout council standing up for the full inclusion of gay members and affirming that the values and principles of scouting are important to all people regardless of sexual orientation or age. We are proud of them for living up to the full promise of Scouting. And we’re proud to be working with Pascal as he stands up for his rights as protected by law.

We spoke to Justin Wilson, the community director for SFE who is leading the group's gathering this weekend, to tell us more about SFE and what lies ahead for the organization.

Westword: Tell us about Scouts for Equality. Who are you and what is your overall mission?

Justin Wilson: Scouts for Equality is a 501(c)(3) organization composed largely of Boy Scouts of America alumni dedicated to ending the BSA’s ban on gay members and leaders. Scouting provides youth with an opportunity to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence and reinforce ethical standards. These opportunities reward scouts throughout their lives by improving their relationships, their work lives, their family lives and the values by which they live. Scouts for Equality is a living example of this, as all members of our core leadership team are Eagle Scouts, all of whom can attest to the value provided to them through scouting. As scouts, we believe discrimination goes against the values our movement teaches us and has no place in scouting’s future. We believe that all youth, including those that are members of your community, should have this same opportunity. The creed and principles of the Scout Oath and Law will drive our mission as we work to save a great cultural icon: the Boy Scouts of America.

Is SFE welcomed within the greater scope of Boys Scouts of America?

It depends on the area, and how we're framing the question. In some areas, we have the full support of the local Boy Scouts council. In others, we are not welcomed at all. On the national level, the BSA is fully aware that we exist and of our efforts, but we are not formally recognized by the BSA.

Tell us about the upcoming national gathering. How many attendees are you expecting, and what is your agenda?

This is our first-ever national gathering of volunteer leaders. We're expecting between thirty and forty people from all over the country, as well as staff and board members of SFE. Our goal for the weekend is to provide networking opportunities for people, to teach volunteers how better to organize at the grassroots level, to excite people about the current events surrounding equality in the Boy Scouts, and to enjoy the great outdoors!

Why did you choose Estes Park as your meeting point this year?

It's fairly centrally located in the United States, and it's close to our Boulder office. Also, scouting is outdoors-focused and Estes Park will provide a lot of recreation opportunities for those who want to get outside.

What are the biggest challenges you see for SFE moving forward?

The Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest, best-funded, and highest-profile youth leadership groups in the United States, and it is the only organization of its kind that has a blanket ban on gay participants. And they've been standing by this policy for decades. However, the change allowing gay youth in 2014 was a huge step forward, and we're confident we'll soon see a fully inclusive BSA.

The 2015 National Spring Gathering of Scouts for Equality will be at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park April 17-19. Find more information at scoutsforequality.com.

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