For nation's LGBT, Obama's quiet snub of Scouts a reminder struggle for equality far from over
By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report
President Barack Obama, citing "scheduling conflict," will not attend the taxpayer-funded Boy Scouts of America Jamboree in Virginia today, an absence which drew criticism from conservative news media for what they described as the "political decision" not to attend the anti-gay, anti-atheist group's publicly-funded 100th annual gathering.
An equal rights activist, however, belittled Obama's absence from the 45,000 scouts-attended Jamboree as, "a victory for scheduling conflicts."
"Scouting for All" president, Howard Metzer, told Fox News the President was right to snub the scouts for their anti-gay policy, but Obama did not cite the group's discriminatory policy as his reason for not attending. If there was a moral stand against discrimination taken by this administration, it wasn't admitting to it.
While there has been great progress in the struggle by gays and lesbians to achieve full citizenship and equal treatment under the law, President Obama's avoidance of participating in the scouts taxpayer-funded annual pilgrimage to Virginia is a reminder of how far the nation's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community has come, but also how far it has to go.
It would be difficult to overestimate the political and social significance of LGBT victories like John Perez' ascension within this State Assembly when he became the nation's first openly gay Speaker Pro Tem.
Where only a few years earlier the LGBT community's only political influence came through backing "substantive representation" of progressive heterosexual candidates sympathetic to the community's needs, Speaker Perez' career high watermark may be indicative of a rising tide of acceptance of gays and lesbians in California society as a whole.
No longer seen as single-issue candidates, openly gay legislators like Tom Ammiano (D-SF), Mark Leno (D-SF) and Christine Kehoe (D-SD) not only advocate for equality for their community, they are known equally for their advancement of issues entirely unrelated to identity politics, from the legalization of marijuana, to property tax law reform, to universal healthcare to military veterans rights.
Perez' election as Speaker is evidence the gay and lesbian community is now successfully electing its own "descriptive representation" to office where those legislators garner the respect and support of their colleagues, capitol employees and lobbyists. In fact, in the 2009 California Progress Report's "Legislator of the Year" online survey, more than 2,600 readers, Leno maintained a lead throughout the polling that never waned. But instead of comments regarding rights for gays and lesbians, respondents offered comments like, “Leno has fought for consumer rights like no other,” wrote one reader, “Principled,” wrote another.
Leno responded to the tribute, “The recognition is very humbling. Of course everything we do is a collaborative effort, so my good fortune is to be able to work with a progressive caucus and a courageous leader, Darrell Steinberg.” Leno's victory came from broad support and his acknowledgment was a reflection of that.
But for LGBT legislators, it is the strong foundation of political support laid by decades of LGBT activists before them on which legislators like Ammiano, Leno, Kehoe and Speaker Perez stand today. The legislative wizardry of Senate Pro Tem David Roberti staffer, Stan Hadden, the energy and organization of the LGBT community's River City Democratic Club, LIFE lobby and Pillars social network group, established by an LGBT community just emerging as a political force, contributing wicked smart legislative staffers and lobbyists and political advisors like Dana Lillian Mitchell, Ron Gray, Ken Topper, Tim Warford, Dennis Mangers and Larry Hoover that built the networks and bridges within and around the capitol that helped make LGBT candidates electable today.
While the LGBT community has had some success in electing openly gay candidates to office, it is the substantive representation of its "straight allies" who remain the community's largest protection against conservative religious organizations like the nation's Evangelical and Catholic churches, as well as the Mormons, who have spent decades increasing their sphere of influence over school boards, athletic programs and youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
Assembly member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) is one of those allies, having received a 100 percent support rating from the California equal rights lobby, Equality California. Along with Leno, Jones was the Assembly's winner of California Progress Report's 2009 Legislator of the Year. "I'm honored that the readers of the California Progress Report have recognized my work fighting for working people, civil rights, consumer protection, insurance regulation and the environment,” responded Jones.
One respondent wrote this about the Assembly member, “Dave is my moral compass, you can't say that about any other politician...local, state or national.”
Jones is seen by the LGBT community as an ally who understands their struggle, so it was surprising to some in the community when the Assembly member late last year posted how his young son, Will, had done with his entry into the Boy Scouts annual Box Car Derby event.
BSA has discriminated against homosexual membership as scouts, scout leaders, and as parents of scouts for more than two decades after religious conservative groups like the evangelical group of James Dobson and Mormon Church (today nearly one third of all boy scout troops meet on Mormon Ward property) targeted the venerable association for control.
In 2000, the BSA went to the United States Supreme Court to defend its right to discriminate against homosexuals, atheists and agnostics based on their right to expressive association as evidenced in the scout's oath to be "morally straight," and "clean." By a single vote, the high court upheld the group's right to associate with other like-minded people by finding valid its argument that who its members are is synonymous with what the organization stands for.
The court's dissenting opinion found no basis for the ruling, asserting that the discrimination was based not on what those denied association do, but on how they are perceived by scout leaders.
In Boy Scouts v. Dale, dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens found in favor of the New Jersey law requiring groups using public facilities not discriminate against any group of taxpayers. "Every state law prohibiting discrimination is designed to replace prejudice with principle."
Stevens' point was that the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members did not follow from its founding principles and that the scout oath to be "clean" and "morally straight" did not, as argued by the scout's counsel, refer to being morally heterosexual. "It is plain as the light of day that neither one of these principles—'morally straight' and 'clean'—says the slightest thing about homosexuality. Indeed, neither term in the Boy Scouts' Law and Oath expresses any position whatsoever on sexual matters." Stevens found proof in the scouts leadership handbook which required scout leaders from ever discussing matters of sex to scouts, saying such discussions should be left to the home and schools.
"The court determined that the scouts had a right to expressive association because who a member was affected what message the organization was sending," Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal and former head of the ACLU's lesbian and gay rights project director of southern california, told CPR. Davidson, who has been working on cases involving Boy Scouts for 22 years, emphasized that each case reached conclusions based on different issues. However, in every case citing expressive association, as in Dale v. Boy Scouts, "Where there is a denial of a fundamental right to associate, the courts must find a compelling reason," to deny someone that association." Not every case arguing expressive association [like the case involving the Bohemian Grove's refusal to employ women because some members liked to "freely urinate in the woods,"] are found to have compelling reasons [in the case ruling against the Bohemian Grove, the Grove member's wish to urinate in public was not a compelling reason to deny women the right to employment].
"In the case of Dale v. Boy Scouts, what's interesting is the majority ruling did not even attempt to cite a compelling reason," said Davidson. But while the scout's counsel had argued the policy mirrored that of the military's, he doesn't believe any repeal of Dont Ask, Don't Tell would bring legal reason to overturn the 2000 finding because the court did not rely on the point to make its decision.
There are many personal associations that stand in contradiction to political principle, one example being the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy's support for women's reproductive choice and his devout Catholicism. Thus, Jones involvement with the scouts might not seem to be an issue to many in the LGBT community, but Davidson says what is new in the evolving battle for equal rights for gays and lesbians is homosexuality and families headed up by same sex couples are more visible than in the past where everything was going the way of these anti gay forces and now they have more to fight against."
Davidson says one disturbing strategy appears to be emerging: these organizations are defending their right to discriminate by portraying themselves as victims of discrimination. "There is this kind of messaging going on by conservative churches and organizations that somehow they're the victims."
That message was received by the people of Maine when Portland's Catholic Diocese spokesperson and campaign manager, Mark Mutty, for "Yes on 1" an initiative to deny same-sex couples the right to marry in that state, came before a trusting Susan Sharon on her Maine Public Broadcasting radio program to claim "we've been discriminated against" in our effort to rent headquarter space "because of our religious beliefs," said Mutty. "Really?" responded Sharon, without asking Mutty for any proof of what essentially would have been an illegal act. Months later I was able to reach Mutty back at the Portland Diocese, where he backed away from his firsthand account of the incident, instead claiming he "had heard" staff looking for the property experienced discrimination. When the California Progress Report (CPR) finally reached those two individuals, neither were able to produce a name, email, property address, rental ad or phone number of any example of the discrimination Mutty claimed the organization experienced while on air with Sharon. "We played to win," Mutty told CPR. "Certainly, both sides did. I'm not going to say we played dirty," said the church's religious spokesman, "but we definitely intended to do whatever we needed to to win this fight."
Jones staff would not respond to questions about the Jones family involvement with the organization, though they did admit the Assembly member does all of his own facebook postings. The Jones capitol and insurance commissioner offices said only, "We understand you have contacted the other office and we have nothing more to say on this matter."
Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, says Jones association with the Scouts is news to the group, and surprising, given that Jones "has publicly opposed honoring the scouts." But Kors believes that the entirety of Jones record justifies LGBT support for him as a candidate.
Both Stonewall Democratic Club in Sacramento and Equality California have endorsed Jones for Insurance Commissioner.
"He always supported us on that, and on marriage equality," said Kors. "His opponent refused even to complete our questionnaire."
Kors doesn't discount Jones' association with the scouts, however. "We would hope that he advocates changes to the policy and all parents would look to find alternatives to the boy scouts," said Kors. Although the organization promotes itself as a "venerable institution," it's association with Mormon Wards and evangelist James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" organization which was cited as principle in Hawaii governor Linda Lingle's veto of a civil unions bill this month, have many contending the scouts remain a century old organization in name only.
Kors said he thinks that his organization's scorecard might need to be amended to reflect a legislator's personal associations. "I think its important to raise this type of question with legislators," said Kors. "This is definitely an issue I will raise with the PAC. If legislators are involved with organizations that openly discriminate, it should raise cause for concern."
Citing recent CPR coverage on a Massachusetts Catholic school's expulsion of an 8 year old boy because his parents were a legally married same-sex couple, Kors said, "I think it's deplorable what these organizations do. They're not just punishing children, they are punishing LGBT families by sending the message that they are not equal, not okay and not welcome." Kors finds such a message to any child to be, "reprehensible" and unworthy of any group contending it represents the compassionate teachings of Jesus Christ or the best interest of children, as in the case of both the Boy Scouts or America and the Catholic and Mormon churches.
Darrick Lawson, an openly gay chiropractor who will hold a fundraiser for Jones at his home August 18, said he was not aware of Jones association with the scouts, but that he will "respect the privacy of the Assemblyman as this is a family matter." Lawson, like Kors, hopes Jones appreciates what it means for the children of same-sex couples and for LGBT youth to be denied the participation his son enjoys, but Lawson remains a supporter of Jones for his work "as a council member and as an assemblyman."
Jones joined with seven of his fellow Assembly Democrats in blocking a resolution congratulating the Scouts on their 100th anniversary July 30, 2010.
Related links regarding Boy Scouts:
Dan Aiello reports for the California Progress Report.