Boy Scouts of America Lawsuit – A Brief History (from my perspective)

A friend wrote to me:

“I wanted to ask you from a LGBT point of view why it seems important to try and change the Boy Scouts policies when they obviously are so against it versus Those leaving the Boy Scouts of America and boycotting it for these reasons and making a new organization? I basically want to know if there is something im missing, because it just seems easier to create something not already set in stone yaknow?

This was my response.


In the late 1980s, Chuck Merino, an El Cajon, California police officer, started a group under the Boy Scouts of America  umbrella for at-risk teens. Called “the Explorers”, the class met once or twice a week at a high school in El Cajon. They had motivational speakers, classes, etc., mostly from low-income, at-risk backgrounds. El Cajon is about 40 minutes East of San Diego. It’s hot and poor and miserable. Teens there have it rough, so a program like Chuck’s was important and did a lot of good. Through this program, Chuck helped hundreds of kids.

On a summer night in 1992, around 10PM or so, I was standing out in front of SOHO Tea and Coffee in Hillcrest, a San Diego suburb just north of downtown – the gay section of town. I was standing out in front of the place, chatting and smoking with my friends like we did almost every night. One of my friends, 17-year-old John Weir, had parked his car in the alley around the corner. On his way to meet up with us, he was jumped by some gay bashers. He was stabbed in the neck. He made it as far as where we were standing, but then he went down on the sidewalk. He died at the scene. The gay bashers got away.

This was the latest in a string of gay bashings and people were very upset.

Chuck, who by then was a friend of mine, started an effort to get the San Diego police department to set up a sub station mobile unit (basically, a police station inside a tour bus). As part of the effort and to help get community buy-in on the sub station, he gave different talks throughout the Hillcrest neighborhood at community centers, including the LGBT Community Center. The Boy Scouts of America  got wind of it, asked him if he was gay, and when he didn’t deny it, they fired him from the Scout Explorer program he started.

Chuck took the Boy Scouts of America  to court – not for being homophobic bigots, which they are certainly guilty of being – but because they were using a public accommodation (the high school in El Cajon) and as such, were subject to certain rules, which they violated. You can’t use city property and discriminate the way they did.

Chuck won the first round, but he lost on appellate level. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court, but they declined to hear the case. So that was the end of that.

The court has ruled that the Boy Scouts of America  is a private organization and private organizations can exclude gay people if they want since we gay people are not a protected class of people, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Not being a protected class means that, at the time of this blog post, people in many states are routinely fired by good Cristian bosses who think that employee might be gay; at present these people have no legal recourse.) It is important to point out that the court never said that the BSA was right or justified in their discrimination, but simply that they were  allowed  to discriminate. Some judges called the organization’s practices “loathsome” while still ruling in favor of the organization.

Chuck’s lawsuit was the first of it’s kind against the Boy Scouts of America  over their anti-gay bigotry.

I’m dismayed when friends sign up their kids for Boy Scouts because then it means I have a decision to make: whether or not to share this story, dredging up the past, taking an overt and very unpopular stance and basically implying (perhaps unfairly) that if they had a shred of empathy then they’d make the same decision.  I don’t like putting people in that position. Perhaps, in the future, I’ll just send people a link to this post and let that be the end of it.

Regardless, I’m certainly not on any mission to change the Boy Scouts of America; a bigoted organization with a shameful history. They can do what they want. However, if they use a public accommodation, like a high school or a park building or some other special deal or privileged arrangement, that’s not OK and the courts have agreed with me on that point. In all such cases involving favoritism in regards to a public accommodation, I think they should be banned in favor of non-bigots.

On the other hand, I have had friends who have been beaten, some killed, by gay bashers. Gay bashers are usually guys in their late teens or early twenties. These men do not learn hate from a book or a movie. They learn it from bigots, like the ones in charge of the Boy Scouts of America. They are taught that gay people are not “morally straight“, that we are against God, that we cannot be truly Christian, that we’re all going to Hell, that we all have AIDS, that we molest children, and all sorts of other horrible shit. They are taught these things from people who should know better – people like those in charge of the Boy Scouts of America. And then these kids go and kill my friends.

The Boy Scouts of America  can go straight to hell.