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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 4 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 14
Supporters of ousted openly Gay troop leader speak out at Seattle rally
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Supporters of ousted openly Gay troop leader speak out at Seattle rally

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Openly Gay Seattle area Boy Scouts of America troop leader, Geoff McGrath, was recently notified that he was being ousted from his leadership position because leadership says he made an issue out of his sexual orientation. On a rainy Thursday afternoon yesterday, supporters of Geoff McGrath, including his brother and state Senator Jamie Pedersen (D-43), rallied to demand no more discrimination under any guise.

The national organization told Geoff McGrath in a letter Monday that it 'has no choice' but to revoke his registration after he said he was Gay while being profiled by NBC News. The issue harkens back to the days of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' when U.S. service members could serve as long as they remained silent about their sexual orientation. Unlike the U.S. military, The Boy Scouts of America do not have an official policy barring Gay leadership from speaking out about their sexual orientation - they downright say you cannot be a homosexual or Lesbian and remain a part of the organization - period.

'Your statement is in direct violation of the BSA's leadership qualification,' said the letter from the Boy Scouts' Office of General Counsel in Irving, Texas.

And, in a particularly pointed statement, BSA leadership noted that there would not be a review of the decision if McGrath talked about this.

'I'm stunned,' McGrath, 49, said Tuesday. 'Our hope is that they'll rethink their decision.'

McGrath earned the rank of Eagle Scout and has been leading Seattle Troop 98 since its formation was approved last fall; he's taken the troop to camp in a snow cave at Mount Rainier National Park, and they've worked on knots and lashing skills just like any other troop. Nothing, in fact, is out of the norm, save the fact that the scouts are now missing their leader due to a discriminatory and archaic policy.

McGrath was asked by the pastor of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the chartering organization, to lead the troop. He obliged and submitted an application that was approved by the Chief Seattle Council and national headquarters.

'We were transparent,' he said. 'If they didn't want us to be a troop, they shouldn't have accepted our application. To hear claims that this is surprising to them is confusing. We've been transparent from day one.'

Among McGrath's supporters - many of whom drove from Bellingham, Olympia, and more - were scouts from troop 11 and his twin brother David McGrath.

McGrath and his brother grew up in Seattle. He was a Cub Scout, became a Boy Scout at 11, and with his twin brother earned Eagle Scout rank before turning 18.

'Scouting was the best part of our youth and adolescence,' McGrath said, 'Adolescence was a hard time, but [scouting] wasn't. That was uncomplicated and wonderful in every way.'

The McGrath brothers' father was also present on Thursday. McGrath said that he and his brother and dad went to the woods and canoed and climbed Mount Rainier.

Family was never the problem he said. In fact, when he came out as Gay in 1988 at the age of 23, the hardest part was anticipating rejection from the Boy Scouts. He lost contact with the Scouts, moved to California and became a software engineer. In 2008, McGrath married his longtime partner.

Last year his brother, David McGrath and his nephew rode their bikes from Idaho to Texas to drum up support for allowing Gay youth to participate in BSA. Late last year, the policy on youth was changed - but still, adults who identify as LGBT are prohibited from leadership roles.

However, that rule does not matter to Rev. Monica Corsaro at Rainier Beach United Methodist Church. She and her congregation are standing by McGrath as troop leader.

'This is a nonissue here. We've gotten no complaints from parents,' she said. 'He decided to tell his story to somebody is why he's getting in trouble.'

And because Corsaro said that she hasn't gotten official word that McGrath is not a Boy Scouts leader, he'll continue in his role.

McGrath thought their willingness to accept the troop was indicative of the BSA leadership's willingness to, at the very least, tryout a new membership policy. McGrath learned Monday that he was wrong.

Still, he says he will continue with the troop, adding, 'The kids are relying on us to be reliable and trustworthy.'

Thursday's rally and protest was held in front of the Chief Seattle Council Boy Scouts of America office, which recently celebrated 100 years of scouting. The crowd of supporters, which looked to be about two dozen people, gave their heartfelt testimony to why they thought McGrath makes a great troop leader.

There was no one from the opposing authority present at the rally. Social Outreach Seattle (www.SocialOutreachSeattle.com) and Equal Rights Washington (www.EqualRightsWashington.com) were at the rally to show support for a new era of scouting.

The rally was organized by GLAAD and Scouts for Equality. For more information about what you can do to help or show support, go to http://www.scoutsforequality.com/in-the-press/geoff-mcgrath/.

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