Bring Back the Boy Scouts

This is the speech that Robin Richmond of PFLAG-Cleveland gave at Cleveland's Scouting For All rally on August 25, 2001, at Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

Other speakers that day included:

  • Rev. Dr. Laurie Hafner, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, whose scout troop was pulled from the church because the troop had agreed to abide by the church's non-discrimination policy.
  • Jan Cline, Eagle Scout and associate director of the Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland
  • John Harrison, Youth Program Coordinator of the Lesbian and Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland
  • Lance Armstrong of Anti-Racist Action of Cleveland, and the Cleveland representative of Scouting for All


It's an honor to be here today.  This very ground speaks to some of the great traditions of America.  We can look over there to the Soldiers and Sailors monument, commemorating the great sacrifice of men in the terrible time of war.  This public square – a place for the community to gather – is a place of great tradition within the City of Cleveland.  I sat in this very block not too long ago and listed to the great Cleveland Orchestra play patriotic songs, as they do for every Independence Day holiday. And right there on the walls of Terminal Tower, they use lasers to draw cannons and stars and the American flag, as we all cheer for the music and for our country.  Even those doors over there – the ones in the middle - stand for something great, for the corner of the Public Square extends into the lobby of Terminal Tower.  As a result, those doors remain open at all hours - because you can't lock the people out of Public Square.  [1]

But today, adults and kids we know and love are locked out of the Boy Scouts of America.  So we're not here to commemorate a great event, or to celebrate victory or freedom.  We're here to mourn the loss of opportunity of some of our best and brightest, to mourn the diminishment of one of our great American institutions, and to plead for its restoration.[2]

So, let's get on to business -

My name is Robin Richmond.  I was a member of Troop 166 in Tulsa Oklahoma, and Troop 239 in Seaford NY, and an Explorer Post in Tulsa.  Though I didn't reach the rank of Eagle, I was a Senior Patrol Leader for two years, and was called out for the Order of the Arrow. Today, I'm the president of the Cleveland Chapter of PFLAG – Parents, Families, & Friends of Gays and Lesbians.[3]

I'm here representing PFLAG, so I'm going to take a few seconds to say who we are and why that's relevant.

Traditionally, we're composed mostly of parents who are dealing with pain and confusion over learning that a child is gay, or trying to deal with friends and family and businesses and institutions that are discriminating against or even threatening their children.  As it turns out, that dynamic plays out not just with our children, but also with our brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and friends.  The key to PFLAG is that a diverse group of caring people come together each month to help people who are figuring out what it really means that their son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, parent – whoever - is gay, or to help a gay person figure out how to relate to or come out to their own loved ones.

So why do we care about the Boy Scouts and their policies? - I have a PFLAG answer and a personal answer..

Here's the PFLAG answer – because we want our children to grow up in a society that doesn't lie about them, abuse them, or discriminate against them – in a society that accepts them, as we have learned to do, as the beautiful creations that they are, with the same capacity as anyone else to love and be loved, to be bums or heroes, or to be naughty or nice.  But sadly, we discover, over and over, that as much as we love and try to protect our children, they have to face a harsh and condemnatory world.  It's bad enough for kids to be faced with scorn for what they say or do – I remember when I was scorned for wearing pants with cuffs, or – get this – wearing green and yellow on a Thursday!  (Of course, come to think of it, I might be scorned in even today for wearing green and yellow on any day of the week.).  That kind of scorn - for what I wore, or what I've said – is awkward, but it doesn't compare to the kind of abuse that gay kids get just for being gay. 

I shrink with sadness to think what happens to kids when the greatest youth organization in the world – the one whose members help little old ladies across the street, pick up litter, rescue kitties and, traditionally, carry the flag at innumerable public events  -  when that organization says – "sorry kid, you're a BAD EXAMPLE; we don't want you.  We don't care if you are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent – not to mention physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.   - you are a bad example, and you might as well give up and face it." 

Folks, that's not a membership policy, that’s CHILD ABUSE!!![4]

As I speak for PFLAG, let me read excerpts from the PFLAG national policy on the Boy Scout Controversy… [5]

Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) deplores the Boy Scouts of America’s practice of excluding gay youth, leaders and volunteers from its program and services. We condemn any policy that would not allow gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals to fully participate at all levels in any activity within scouting.

Let's get a bit more specific….

PFLAG calls upon then Boy Scouts of America to end its discrimination and live up to the words of its federal charter:

The PFLAG policy quotes here from Boy Scout publications…[6]

"…neither the charter nor the bylaws of Boy Scouts of America permits the exclusion of any boy…To meet these responsibilities we have made a commitment that our membership shall be representative of all the population in every community, district, and council."

The Supreme Court noted that the BSA's policy on homosexuality doesn't have to be internally consistent, and boy, it sure isn't.[7]  Back to PFLAG's statement…

The negative stereotypes and attitudes engendered by the Boy Scouts of America’s exclusionary practice are detrimental to all youth and society as a whole, causing further alienation and lowered self esteem among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth. The injury caused by this discrimination and these attitudes violates the tradition of the Boy Scout’s values of honesty, friendliness, kindness and fair play.

And finally, the key point:

PFLAG asserts that one’s sexual orientation and gender identity are separate from one’s moral values and actions.

That bears a second reading….

one’s sexual orientation and gender identity are separate from one’s moral values and actions.

That's really the key point that we're all making today; that you can't use a label like "homosexual" to characterize one's moral character.  Let's contrast that with the BSA policy – now quoting from their web site…[8]

We believe that an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.

They just couldn't be more wrong.  I know dozens of gay men – and gay youth – who are stupendous leaders and role models, and, of course, I know of many heterosexual men – and boys - who I wouldn't want near any kids I care about.  To take a "moral position" against sexual orientation and gender identity is just wrong.

Now I suppose that I may be preaching to the choir as I stand here, but I know that there are a lot of people who think that they agree with the BSA position, but don't understand really understand it, or who support it but don't understand its implications.  Let me take just a minute to try to clarify a couple of points.

First, the BSA likes to say that "special interest groups" have thrust this issue upon them, and that they just want to do scouting.  But it was the BSA that felt that it was necessary to go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States of America to assert their right to exclude gay people.[9]  And here, in this 8-page publication that I picked up at the Boy Scout booth at the Cuyahoga County fair[10], they brag that they are not just exercising their personal membership policy, but that they

"Set a Constitutional Precedent that will protect all private organizations". 

Yes, it is the BSA that is taking this battle to the streets, and we have been forced to join in to protect our children.

The problem is that the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA holds this exclusionary policy – which does not date back to 1910, as they claim, but only, at the most to about 1978.  This isn't just a casual policy by some run of the mill private organization – nor a clearly defined religious body – This is the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, which holds a congressional charter, and which considers the President of the United States to be an honorary leader.

Shoot, all the way back in 1916 John Phillip Sousa wrote the Boy Scouts of America March.  Royalties from the song that many people consider to be our spiritual national anthem  - "God Bless America" were allocated to the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, and Campfire Girls.

No, the Boy Scouts of America isn't just any organization. Rather, they set an example for this country.

And, let me just mention that that the Girl Scouts, the Campfire Girls and Boys, 4H clubs, and even religious groups like the Methodist Youth Fellowship are explicitly non-discriminatory with regard to sexual orientation.

But here, on the back cover of that Boy Scout publication "In Support of Values" is a letter from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It's a strident letter of support for the BSA's exclusionary policy that includes this language

"Thank you for standing immovably on absolute truth regardless of what some in the culture may try to say"

Now, the Southern Baptist Convention, like any other private organization, is free to set its own policies – and so is the Boy Scouts of America.  But the Southern Baptist Convention is not eligible for state funding[11]; they are not eligible for United Way funding[12]; and they are not allowed to go into schools and recruit.  And as long as the Boy Scouts of America hold these discriminatory policies, they are not the great, inclusionary organization that I grew up with, and they should NOT be eligible for that funding or for those special privileges.

OK, that's the PFLAG answer – Now I'll give my personal answer about why we I care about the boy scouts and their policies. 

When I hopped online to do some research for this speech, I found web site after web site that talked about the honor and joy of scouting, and I was carried back to my youth, and the hours I spent hiking down trails with a pack on my back and a canteen on my hip – braving the snow and ice (boy do I remember the trip on which I earned my camping merit badge), dodging a tornado (boy do I remember that trip), sitting around the campfire, sleeping under the stars, building rope bridges,  and unfurling, carrying, or folding the flag.  My God, I loved the Scouts, and I want every boy – EVERY BOY – to have the opportunity to learn, to bond, and to grow stronger in mind spirit and body through that great experience.

Here's a 1964 printing of the Boy Scout Handbook – my parents must have bought it for me when I was 11.  There are two facing pages that speak to the current controversy.  Here, it says

"Once a scout, always a scout – whether you stay in active scouting or not, what you have learned as a scout will be with you always."

It makes me terribly sad that this once great organization is now actively promoting the idea that some of my dearest friends, and some of the greatest people I know, are BAD EXAMPLES, just because they are gay, and that young gay kids – who need friendship, companionship, and support as much as anyone in the world – are being systematically rejected. 

But what is truly unconscionable is that this false and abusive lesson about gay children and gay adults is now a core part of the Boy Scout message, and that for countless Boy Scouts that lesson will be with them always.  We just can't let that continue to happen!!!

Conveniently, just opposite the heading ONCE A SCOUT, ALWAYS A SCOUT is the heading MORALLY STRAIGHT.  The catch phrase for today's scouts is "gays can't be scouts because they aren't morally straight."  I've already noted that that's not just a lie; it's malicious slander.[13]  But let's see what it says right here about being morally straight

Your Conscience speaks to you about your relationship to other people, respecting their rights, treating them justly, giving them a fair chance.

Where is that respect in today's Boy Scouts?  Where is that justice in today's Boy Scouts?  Where is that chance in today's Boy Scouts of America?  I say to the men who have taken those virtues out of Scouting:  Bring back the Boy Scouts that we all knew and loved!  Respect the rights of ALL of our children!  Treat them justly, and give them a fair chance!

Thank you.


  1. Public Square is an interesting place, and its monuments and history do lend atmosphere to rallies for freedom and justice. For more information on Public Square, please see the online Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. (For now, you'll just have to take my words for it about the doors; I can't find a reference.) (Back to the speech)
  2. I think that everyone at the rally where this speech was first given understood what I meant by this, but out of context, it might be confusing. VERY BRIEFLY - In 1990 the Boy Scout Council in Monmouth, New Jersey found out that James Dale, a college student and assistant scoutmaster, was gay, and summarily dismissed him. He sued and forced the Scouts to reinstate him, but the BSA appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which found that the BSA is a private club that can keep whatever membership rules they want. So the BSA has formalized the relatively widespread informal policy of excluding gay men and boys. I should note that this speech focused on the exclusion of gay boys, but the I believe that the blanket exclusion of gay men is a travesty and an injustice, as well. Volumes have been written about the Supreme Court case, and the policy. For further reading, I'll just refer to the Supreme Court Decision posted on the Cornell University Legal Information Institute web site. (Back to the speech)
  3. PFLAG-Cleveland is at
    PFLAG national, where the official policy statements can be found, is at
    (Back to the speech)
  4. OK, I admit that calling the policy Child Abuseis a bit hyperbolic. But really - think about what it does to kids when institution like the Boy Scouts call them names like "morally unfit" just for being gay. It's mean and tacky, and, well, abusive. (Back to the speech)
  5. PFLAG's policy statement about the Boy Scouts of America is posted on PFLAG's web site. (If this specific address no longer works, go to the PFLAG home page and look under About PFLAG, and then under Policy Statements. Or search for "Boy Scouts." (Back to the speech)
  6. The PFLAG policy statement no longer quotes directly from any Boy Scout publications. But the quote I used in my speech comes from a Boy Scout publication called "A Representative Membership", according to the New Jersey Supreme Court Decision in James Dale's favor, which preceded the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in favor of the Boy Scouts of America. The New Jersey Supreme Court decision quotes extensively from that booklet. (Back to the speech)
  7. Even the majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case noted that "it is not the role of the courts to reject a group’s expressed values because they disagree with those values or find them internally inconsistent." (See (Back to the speech)
  8. The Boy Scouts of America website at evidently no longer cites the policy that was the subject of my speech (and of their Supreme Court battle). I know of at least a couple of Boy Scout troops that disavow that policy, and I don't know what the BSA's official stand is on the policy. (Back to the speech)
  9. Remember, the Scouts lost in the New Jersey Supreme Court, so they took the case to the Supreme Court. (Back to the speech)
  10. The pamphlet was called "In Support of Values". As of July 2008, searching the BSA web site for the phrase "In Support of Values" brings up a page describing changes to the web site, with a note dated March, 2008 that says "The 'In Support of Values' materials were deleted from the site. That marketing campaign has been discontinued." (Back to the speech)
  11. Actually, what I said is evidently not completely accurate. Strictly sectarian or evangelical programs are not eligible for state funding, but church-based program that can be shown to be non-discriminatory according to the applicable laws and standards may be funded. That is, the government won't fund a welfare program for Baptists, but it will, in some cases, fund a welfare program run by Baptists. (Back to the speech)
  12. See footnote 11 (Back to the speech)
  13. Again, pretty strong language, I realize. But I call this accusation of moral inferiority "malicious slander" because it is being applied even to boys who haven't taken the first steps toward sexual activity. Kids take accusations of moral inferiority pretty seriously. To label kids that way just for those subtle affectational feelings they find in themselves is, well, malicious and slanderous. (Back to the speech)

Updated July 21, 2008.
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