An openly gay scoutmaster and his host church in Rainier Beach have hired an attorney after the Boy Scouts of America revoked Geoffrey McGrath's membership due to his sexual orientation.
McGrath still believes in the ideals of BSA, and for thirty years, has kept merit badges from his time as a young scout.
"Those precepts are my personal creed," McGrath said. "They're every bit as important as anything I've learned in church."
Boy Scouts of America revoked McGrath's membership after asking him if he is an avowed homosexual, prompted by a journalist's question.
Deron Smith, Director of BSA Public Relations sent KING 5 this statement last week:
"The Boy Scouts of America does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of our members. We don't believe the topic of sexual orientation has a role in Scouting and it is not discussed unless it is deliberately injected into Scouting. Today, this individual provided both Scouting national leadership and the media with information that led to his removal as a leader. The BSA does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, we remain focused on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training."
Despite his membership termination, McGrath continues to lead Troop 98 scout meetings at Rainier Beach, with his pastor's blessings.
"Geoffrey is an evangelical for the Boy Scouts. He loves the Boy Scouts," explained Rev. Monica Corsaro. "We just want to be able to serve in the context we're in."
BSA recently decided to allow gay scouts, but still won't allow gay leaders, and according to McGrath, that's prompted confusion and phone calls from kids.
"To know that I'm OK, which is really sweet, but also to know that they're ok," McGrath said. "We're in it for the long haul with these kids and we'll do what's right by them."
McGrath and Rev. Corsaro believe BSA is infringing on their religious freedom, since the organization expects churches to choose their scoutmasters. Their attorney, Peter Mullenix, hopes dialogue may help them avoid litigation in their efforts to win back McGrath's membership.
"We are still exploring our legal options, and we hope no litigation is necessary. We want to work with the Boy Scouts toward a resolution that works for the kids of the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church. With that said, it may be time for the courts to revisit the question of whether a congressionally chartered, non-sectarian corporation is allowed to violate the states’ discrimination statutes," Mullenix wrote in a statement to KING 5. "The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, allowed the Scouts to do so in 2000 because the Scouts claimed that the presence of gay scouts would affect their ability to take a moral stand against homosexuality. We don’t think they can still make that claim, particularly when, we believe, they knew about Geoff’s orientation when they approved his leadership. We also don’t think the Boy Scouts, which claim to be a non-sectarian organization, should be interfering with the religious decision of the Church, which believes strongly that God would disapprove of discrimination based on sexual orientation."
The controversy has brought up a question that churches across the country have begun asking, since more than 70 United Methodist Churches with scout troops are also "reconciling congregations", which means they welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
"Whose rules, when?" Rev. Corsaro asked. “The Boy Scouts have said to United Methodist churches, ‘You are responsible for getting the staff.’ I have recruited such leaders, and then to be told, ‘Oh, except for this.’”
For McGrath, the battle is very personal and not spotlight he wants, but he does hope for better clarification from BSA on their policy as it regards sexual orientation.
If McGrath, an eagle scout, was a scout today, he could be openly gay. What happens now, he wonders, when an 18-year-old gay scout wants to become a leader?
“If it’s not going to be safe for them, hang a sign on your door that says, ‘Homosexuals need not apply. Gays not wanted,’ because then it’s not confusing,” he said.
McGrath, Rev. Corsaro and their attorney hope to avoid litigation, but are preparing for the possibility if necessary.