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First person: Joe Hopkins: no merit for scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America have been in the news a lot lately. Among reports of discrimination and tragedy there was one about Syracuse University banning a Merit Badge Day program from its campus because the Scouts' ban on openly gay members violates the school's antidiscrimination policy.

It's an ironic development: I'm a gay man, and I founded the original "Merit Badge University," a program to utilize the resources of the nation's universities to offer special Merit Badges to Scouts that they might not normally be able to earn. I created the program in 1974 at age 21 as my Wood Badge project--an adult leadership development program. It was at the University of Missouri, Rolla, and I chaired the annual merit badge event--which has since spread to campuses nationwide--until I graduated in 1976. I officially came out about 15 years later. When I was active in the Scouts, the organization strived to reach out to every boy. In fact, the Scouts' 1916 Congressional Charter mandates the organization be "open to all boys." Now, by practicing discrimination, the Scouts are moving away from that ideal. Because of their ban on gays, they are becoming marginalized. The Scouts have been suffering declining membership, and I believe this is at least in part due to the ban. They're losing the talent, skills, and innovation of many leaders, gay and straight. Parents are not permitting their sons to be Scouts, and many adults have withdrawn their time and money from the group, while other youth organizations that do not practice discrimination are growing.

When a boy joins the Scouts, he is not thinking about his sexual orientation but about the adventure and mystique the organization has to offer. I joined at age 11 because my neighbors my friends at school, and those at church belonged. The Scouts provide an environment where kids can grow up, learn to work together, to lead, and to become actively involved in their communities. But some kids are now coming out in their teens, and the ban is shutting them out of this important opportunity.

We as a community have to fill that void. We have a responsibility to provide support for our gay youth, be it a gay-straight alliance club at their school or college, a "safe haven" community youth center, a gay youth chorus, or helping fulfill their desire to be Boy Scouts.

The Scouts argue that since Syracuse University receives tax dollars, they should have access to their facilities. But you can't claim to be private and therefore restrictive and then demand to use public resources. While I sympathize with the Alpha Phi Omega scouting fraternity, sponsor of the Merit Badge Day event at Syracuse, I applaud the moral courage of the leadership of the university to stand against intolerance and discrimination. I am reminded of the closing words of a poem by Reverend Martin Niemoller of the consequences of not taking a stand: "Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak out for me."

I look forward to the day when such strong moral stands make the Scouts program I created accepting of people like me.
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Title Annotation:REPORT
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 13, 2005
Words:529
Previous Article:Rants raves.
Next Article:Friend or foe?
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