Bolstered by a recent decision by the Philadelphia-area Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America to defy the national organization's policy of excluding gays, a group of gay rights activists demonstrated Thursday outside the Philadelphia hotel where the Boy Scouts' annual national convention was being held. Some activists wore Boy Scout uniforms. "What's next? An organization that preaches tolerance and love and loyalty is now ready to tell someone, 'You can't be part of my group because you're an atheist, you can't be part of my group because you're gay,'" said Gregory Lattera, a Life Scout from Philadelphia. "It's painful that something you love, people you care about are ready to kick you out."
Although the discrimination issue wasn't on the BSA agenda, some of the 1,200 Scout leaders and members gathered for the event would occasionally stop to look out the hotel's windows at the sidewalk protesters. "It's a sensitive subject," said Greg Heleniak, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout from Blue Bell, Pa. "We are taught to be accepting and tolerant of everyone."
The Boy Scouts of America went to the Supreme Court in 2000 to defend its ban on gay scout leaders and members, saying that as a private organization it should be free to choose its members however it wishes. The Scouts won the case. BSA spokesman Gregg Shields said the national group considered a resolution last year to leave such policies up to the local councils but rejected it. Controversy persists, however. In addition to the protest, groups including Scouting for All and the Coalition for Inclusive Scouting ran a hospitality suite at the hotel where the national meeting was being held. The Cradle of Liberty Council--the third-largest local council in the country--isn't the first one to buck the national group's stance either. The Boston Minuteman Council approved a bylaw in 2001 that effectively allows gays into the Scouts as long they don't openly declare their sexual orientation.