Hiking, Camping, and Gay Bashing

The Boy Scouts earn a merit badge for intolerance

I have no doubt that members of the South Florida Council, responsible for the scouting program in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties, believe the discriminatory policy is wrong. They are powerless, though, to do anything about it.

When I asked the council's executive director, Jeff Herrmann, if there was any room to compromise on the issue of gay scoutmasters, he flatly answered no. “We have no wiggle room on that,” declares Herrmann. “Avowed homosexuals are not role models the way we interpret the scout oath and law.” He argues that the South Florida Council of the Boy Scouts is committed to this policy. “We are in lock step on this issue,” he says.

Which means that unless the Boy Scouts withdraw their request for the rest of their allocation from the county, Miami-Dade and the Boy Scouts are almost certainly headed for a showdown. If Penelas and Margolis feel like twisting a few arms instead of threatening Sorenson and her allies, they should try exerting a little pressure on Burns and the South Florida Council to abandon their efforts to collect more money from taxpayers.

Lobbyist Dusty Melton resigned from the Boy Scouts over their policy of discriminating against gays
Lobbyist Dusty Melton resigned from the Boy Scouts over their policy of discriminating against gays

The county commission, however, cannot simply acquiesce to bigotry in order to avoid the type of messy debates that have taken place in other communities. Nor can they do so out of fear that their actions will be used as a pretext to repeal the gay-rights ordinance. That ordinance only has meaning if the county commission supports it through word and deed.

The commission should be applauded for trying to settle its differences with the Boy Scouts in a calm, thoughtful manner, but when the talking stops and the differences remain, the commission must be willing to stand tall and confront discrimination wherever it exists.

That's called leading by example. A lesson the Boy Scouts still need to learn.

Eston “Dusty” Melton III is one of Miami-Dade County's most influential lobbyists. Before that he was a journalist. Throughout it all, though, he's been an Eagle Scout.

To argue that the Boy Scouts are in his blood is an understatement. His father is an Eagle Scout, two of his brothers are Eagle Scouts, his oldest son is an Eagle Scout. His father's father was a scoutmaster and his mother's father was awarded the Silver Beaver and the Silver Antelope in 1954 for outstanding volunteer service.

He has been a prodigious fundraiser for the Boy Scouts and was named a member of the Founders Circle last year after changing his will to bequeath $100,000 to the Boy Scouts.

He has served on the executive board of the South Florida Council since 1991, and for the past five years he's been on the governing board for the southern region of the Boy Scouts, which oversees scouting in thirteen states.

Last week he resigned those posts in protest over the scout's continuing policy of discrimination against gays. “I was personally hoping we would lose the [Supreme Court] case, and we would become more inclusive,” he says. “But when that didn't happen, it forced many of us to confront our own personal feelings and scrutinize, for the first time, in a serious, sober way, our level of discomfort with this national policy.”

Melton found himself recalling what he considers to be the defining moment of his life: winning the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1976. He was editor of his college newspaper at the University of Virginia, and used the paper to focus attention on the plight of blacks on campus and in the community. One story exposed that the president of the university belonged to a country club that did not allow black members.

“And now, all these years later, I found myself in a club that discriminates arbitrarily on the basis of private sexual preference, and I found that to be equally inappropriate,” he offers. He expects to continue volunteering his time to the Boy Scouts because he believes the group does help children; he just won't serve on any of its governing boards.

Melton says he had hoped to “unravel” from the Boy Scouts as quietly as possible, and had encouraged other members who were thinking of resigning in protest to the policy to cite other reasons for leaving the group so as not to embarrass the organization.

“I don't have a choice,” he says.

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