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Scouts reject lesbian leaders

December 30, 2009

EAST MONTPELIER – Cate Wirth said Tuesday she was "taken aback" recently when she and her longtime civil union partner, Elizabeth Wirth, were turned down as Cub Scout leaders because of their sexual orientation.

"I was speechless," Wirth said, recounting the meeting where the district director was asking for parent volunteers, but told the gay couple they could not be leaders because "we wouldn't want you pushing your lifestyle on the boys."

The district director, Erik Tanney, referred media calls to Richard Stockton, Scout executive for the Green Mountain Council. Stockton did not dispute the allegations made by Wirth.

"That is the national policy," Stockton said. "The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don't accept gays and lesbians as volunteers."

The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in 2000, declared the Boy Scouts of America can bar homosexuals from being troop leaders.

Wirth of East Montpelier said her 10-year-old son has been involved with Cub Scouts for several years. In that time, she and her partner have volunteered without openly disclosing their relationship.

"That's worked up until now," she said.

She said at the recent meeting, when she and Elizabeth volunteered to serve, the conversation with Tanney initially went well. She said they told Tanney that they needed training because they don't have lots of outdoor experience, and he indicated that was possible.

"As we were starting to leave, I said to Elizabeth, given what we know about the Boy Scouts, we should tell him about us so we don't run into something down the line," she said. "I guess I was just being na´ve."

"I think we said something like, 'We wanted you to know we're both Dylan's moms, we're a couple, and we wanted you to know that,'" Cate Wirth said. "We didn't use the 'L' word."

She said sometimes people don't realize the two are a gay couple. "A lot of people don't think about it. People think you're sisters or something. It's not in people's consciousness."

Tanney said something like, "Basically we can't have you be in a leadership role, something like that … because we wouldn't want you to be pushing your lifestyle on the boys," Wirth said. "I was so taken aback. I think we just said 'wow,' we didn't really respond. We were really angry and we just left."

Wirth first disclosed the incident in a letter to the editor of The Times Argus that appeared Tuesday.

"I was angry. It just seemed so ridiculous," she said of her decision to discuss the incident. "I wanted people to think about how absurd it is that we can be discriminated against."

Stockton said all parents are allowed to participate in Scouting activities with their children. But, he said, gays and those who do not "believe in a higher being" are barred from leadership roles. He said that is the national policy, and state councils must adhere to those rules. The Boy Scouts also exclude atheists and agnostics as leaders.

"We're not an investigative authority. We don't go out and search through the private lives of our leaders … that's not what we do," he said. As an official with the Vermont Council, Tanney had to rule the Wirths out as leaders once they disclosed their sexual orientation.

"The person they were talking to was an employee of the Council. In his job, you have to adhere to all the membership standards," Stockton said.

He said the situation is unusual, adding, "I've been here three years and it's the first time I've had to deal with it."

"We're trying to do the best we can for the families that join our program," Stockton said. "That's what we're trying to do. If we're the right organization for your family, wonderful. If we're not the right program, we understand that, too."

Cate Wirth said Tuesday that she expects her son to remain in Scouting, despite this incident. And as of Tuesday afternoon, she had not told the boy about the comments.

"I still think Scouts is a good thing for him because he doesn't have a dad and he's really drawn to a lot of stereotypical male stuff that Scouting does, outdoorsy stuff," Wirth said. "I don't want my personal issues to impact his life in that way. I was concerned if he knew about it he might be uncomfortable going."

She said of her decision to allow him to continue in Scouts, "Politically, if he weren't a 10-year -old boy I'd feel differently about it. I wouldn't support the organization. But his needs come first."

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