Badge of bigotry
Local Eagle Scout laments BSA’s anti-gay policy
Cayle Geiser is a self-possessed, thoughtful 16-year-old who’s about to begin his junior year at Chico’s Pleasant Valley High School. His parents, Bob and Rebecca Geiser, attribute his maturity in large part to his involvement in Scouting, which began when he was just 6 years old. Cayle recently became an Eagle Scout, Scouting’s highest rank, and his younger brother, Jared, who’s 14, is about to become one as well.
Both boys recently spent a week at Camp Winton in Amador County, one of three summer camps run by the Golden Empire Council, the Sacramento Valley arm of the Boy Scouts of America. They had a great time, as always, but when they returned home, they were confronted by disturbing news.
According to a July 25 article in The Sacramento Bee, one of their favorite counselors, a 22-year-old gay Eagle Scout named Tim Griffin, had been fired after eight years on the summer staff. In response, 10 of about 30 staff members had walked off the job in solidarity.
The firing came just days after the Boy Scouts of America announced it had reaffirmed its policy of banning gays. “I definitely think that the reaffirmation of the anti-gay policy played a role in my termination,” Griffin told the Bee.
Local BSA officials denied that, saying it was because of Griffin’s failure to adhere to correct attire, specifically his insistence on painting his fingernails and wearing an earring.
But other Scouts weren’t buying it. “It was absolutely about his sexual orientation, no question about it,” Graham Littlejohn, an Eagle Scout and the third-ranking seasonal staff member, told the Bee. Littlejohn was among those who quit in protest.
Cayle Geiser agrees. “It wasn’t even nail polish; it was crafts paint, and half the staff painted their nails,” he said. “We were all really shocked. … He was a really great counselor. … He was a funny, really outgoing guy.”
Griffin neither hid nor flaunted his gayness, and the subject never came up, Cayle said, shrugging his shoulders. “It was not an issue among the kids.”
Firing Griffin was just “so old-fashioned,” he said.
The Scouts already had taken enough measures to protect youth from sexual abuse, he added, and besides “I don’t know when ‘gay’ started to mean ‘pedophile.’”
The Boy Scouts’ decision to maintain its anti-gay policy makes it the only major youth organization with that stance. The Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Camp Fire all practice non-discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the BSA’s right to discriminate, however, ruling that, as a Christian organization, it has a First Amendment right to associate with whomever it chooses. The BSA also bans atheists.
Legal or not, the anti-gay posture makes it harder for parents to do volunteer work for the organization, said Rebecca Geiser, who has logged countless volunteer hours in support of her sons and their Scouting friends.
“The Boy Scouts do good work,” she said. “They improve the community and help other nonprofit organizations. But now everybody thinks the Boy Scouts is all about excluding gays, and that’s all they want to talk about.”
She’s conferred with other parents in the program, and they’re similarly dismayed by the decision. “It just wasn’t necessary,” she said.
“The biggest crisis facing Scouting is money. We can’t keep the camps going, pay for uniforms and drive kids to the events without volunteers. Why would we want to kick out anybody who wanted to help?”
And, she wondered, what about gay parents with sons in the program? Are they supposed to hide who they are? Are they forbidden from volunteering?
“This [decision] has hijacked the entire program,” she continued. “We’re all about getting boys outdoors, having fun, learning skills. The people who made this decision are a world away from that. They’re not involved. And they’ve undermined the efforts of volunteers on the ground.”
According to The Associated Press, the Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, contends that most Scout families support the policy. “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” he said.
But gay-rights advocate Chad Griffin, of the Human Rights Campaign, depicted the Scouts’ decision as “a missed opportunity of colossal proportions.”
“With the country moving toward inclusion, the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have instead sent a message to young people that only some of them are valued,” Griffin told the AP.
For his part, Cayle Geiser is trying to decide whether to apply to be a counselor-in-training at Camp Winton next summer. He came home from camp eager to do it, but Tim Griffin’s firing and the controversy over the anti-gay policy have put a damper on his desire.
“It’s hard to be proud of your accomplishments in an organization that’s discriminatory,” he said.