A contingent of active and former members of the Boy Scouts of America led thousands Sunday in New York City’s 44th Annual Pride Parade — a historic move in celebration of the organization’s inclusion of out gay youth and in protest of its existing ban on out gay adult members.
The group of over a dozen — spanning generations of Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts, leaders in uniform, and volunteers — presented the American flag and acted as the parade’s color guard, leading over 14,000 parade participants through Manhattan. Crystal Bueno, a Cub Scouts leader from Brooklyn, said their service in the march was “emotional and bittersweet.”
“Just this year on Jan. 1, the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on membership for gay youth,” Bueno said at a press conference prior to the parade. “For that, we march in celebration that gay youth are finally welcome to be part of the wonderful American tradition of scouting; however, the Boy Scouts of America still holds a membership policy that bans LGBT adults from serving as volunteers.”
Existing BSA policy allows for out gay youth to serve as members, but upon turning 18, LGBT scouts could be forced out and adults could be barred from volunteering in the organization. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Bueno questioned why — in 2014 — the BSA sees including LGBT adults as an issue.
“Why are we even still debating this?” she said and wondered why she is more qualified to serve as a scout leader than out LGBT adults and why gay scouts like Pascal Tessier, who is widely regarded as the first gay Eagle Scout, could face expulsion from scouting when he turns 18 in August. Tessier was among the Eagle Scouts who carried a flag and marched in Sunday’s parade.
Instead of carrying an American flag or a rainbow pride flag, another member of the group, David Knapp, carried a sign, reading “88 year old Boy Scout leader kicked out for being gay.” Knapp said he’s been fighting the BSA for over 20 years — or since he was outed as gay while serving as a volunteer officer in Madison and Guilford, Conn. and subsequently removed by the local council.
“I was in total shock and [the council leaders] said it was because they discovered I was a homosexual,” said Knapp, who participated as a scout growing up in the 1930s and even worked as district scout executive for the BSA from 1951 to 1960. “So I’ve been fighting the Boy Scouts ever since.”
Knapp, though, said he was happy for the inclusion of gay scouts and was delighted to serve in the group among those leading the city’s Pride March.
“To be at the front and to be given this honor is just fantastic,” he said. “[Boy Scouts have] already removed half of the barrier, which is wonderful, but obviously they need to remove the barrier from 18 and up so that I can join again.”
Peter Brownstein travelled to New York from Salt Lake City to be part of the pride parade contingent. Brownstein told BuzzFeed he was ousted as scoutmaster and his troop was disbanded because of his LGBT activism, which included distributing pizza with his son to same-sex couples who rushed to marry upon a federal court ruling that struck down the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples in late December.
“I was thrown out by the end of the year as a straight Jewish man in Utah,” Brownstein said. “United Jewish Federation of Utah decided that my activism was too much to get in the way of their relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, which is the all powerful in Utah. They officially suspended our unit because they thought it would look bad if they just voted me out, so they suspended the operation of our entire troop.”
Brownstein contends that the future of scouting depends on its openness to diversity.
“Most importantly, we’re trying to talk about where scouting needs to be in the future,” he said. “Scouting wants to be larger and it needs to be inclusive. It’s a service to all individuals, it cannot just be for a select few. Our measure of success will be when scouting reflects the population — all of the religions, races, everything — it needs to be inclusive.”
About 1 million people were expected to attend the parade.