Eighteen Seattle youths whose Scouting experience was disrupted when their openly gay Scoutmaster was ejected have transitioned to a new youth group.
Last year, Geoffrey C. McGrath organized a Boy Scouts of America troop and pack, connected to the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church in Seattle.
But in April, after McGrath confirmed to a news reporter that he’s gay, he was abruptly ejected from Scouting.
Sixteen days later, the affiliated church lost its BSA charter, after its pastor and congregants declined to sever ties with McGrath.
McGrath said the BSA’s actions caused some initial turmoil among participants.
But they’ve rebounded nicely by transitioning to the Baden-Powell Service Association, an alternate Scouting group that meets at the church.
“We’re very happy to partner with Baden-Powell for materials, handbooks, uniforms and other traditional Scouting paraphernalia and programming,” McGrath told PGN.
Recent activities of the new group include hiking, a marshmallow roast, mountain climbing, camping and participating in an emergency-disaster drill, he said.
McGrath praised the Baden-Powell Service Association.
“It’s a fantastic alternative to the BSA, with 200,000 members worldwide,” he noted. “The organization welcomes everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and other irrelevant factors.”
McGrath said he did his best to ensure a smooth transition, and noted the harmony and safety the youth members feel within the new group.
BSA officials never attempted to determine their emotional well-being before de-chartering the church, he added.
Deron Smith, a BSA spokesperson, had no comment for this story.
The Rev. Monica Corsaro, pastor of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, said the transition has been almost seamless.
“We just missed one [youth] meeting, because we had to have a meeting with parents,” she said.
She said the youth participants come from a variety of socio-economic strata and represent a “rainbow” of diversity.
“There’s been an outpouring of support from the community,” she added. “This is what Scouting should be all about — teaching survival skills, building community.”
Corsaro expressed disappointment with the BSA’s decision to de-charter the church, without any personal consultation with her.
“They called us a charter partner and yet we got no communication, just punitive emails,” she said. “I’m sorry, but when I’m working collaboratively or in a partnership, that’s not what I do.”
She also questioned the BSA’s stated policy of respecting people’s religious beliefs.
“[BSA officials] aren’t supposed to be infringing on the religious beliefs of the sponsoring organization. We made it very clear that we would stand with Geoff. Why did they disrespect our beliefs? I’m pretty clear it’s only certain religious beliefs that are respected.”
Corsaro said she’s particularly impressed that so many parents are taking an active role in the new youth group.
“The parents have been extraordinary,” she said.
McGrath, 49, a software engineer, said he’ll still strive to ensure the BSA becomes more accepting of diversity.
“I remain engaged in the effort to right the ship,” he said.
For example, he’s urging Amazon.com to remove the BSA from its charitable-giving program until the BSA ends its anti-LGBT bias.
“Sometimes you need to apply strong medicine to change an institutional policy,” McGrath noted.
He’s also offered to help with an effort to recall new-elected BSA president Robert Gates, because Gates hasn’t shown enough support for ending anti-LGBT bias.
“Gates has announced that he intends to do nothing more to end anti-LGBT discrimination in the BSA for the [remaining] two years of his term,” McGrath said.
But for the most part, McGrath is focused on ensuring the youth he brought into Scouting are continuing to learn and grow within the alternate program.
“I’m committed to delivering excellent services to the youth of our community. The Rainier Beach congregation takes a lot of pride in the services we’re providing.”