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Boy Scout leader bucks ban on gay adults

Openly gay Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath was told his membership had been revoked, but he is sticking with the troop he started last year
Boy Scouts from the Chief Seattle Council carry U.S. flags as they prepare to march in the Gay Pride Parade in downtown Seattle, June 30, 2013.
Boy Scouts from the Chief Seattle Council carry U.S. flags as they prepare to march in the Gay Pride Parade in downtown Seattle, June 30, 2013.

One week after the Boy Scouts of America kicked out a Seattle scoutmaster for being openly gay, it’s still business as usual for the boys of Troop 98 -- including their leader.

Geoffrey McGrath was told his membership had been revoked, but he is sticking with the unit he started last year, defying a controversial policy of inclusion that stops at age 18. While openly gay youth are welcomed in the organization, openly gay adults are strictly prohibited.

“I consider my membership to be in dispute,” McGrath told msnbc Tuesday. “This is between lawyers. In terms of me and the people around me, we’re all friends.”

The same can’t be said, however, for McGrath’s relationship with the national Boy Scouts of America, which has a very different view of his position in its ranks.

“Recently, this adult leader deliberately injected his sexuality into the scouting program, which led to his removal from the program and means he is no longer eligible to serve as an adult leader,” said Deron Smith, director of BSA public relations, in a statement. “Organizations that charter scouting agree to follow the BSA’s national policies. In the rare instance a chartering organization decides not to follow a BSA policy, we work to place that unit’s youth members in a nearby troop, with minimal disruption to their regular activities.”

Geoff McGrath displays his Boy Scout scoutmaster uniform shirt and other scout items for the Seattle troop he led, April 1, 2014.

So far, the BSA has yet to take tangible steps toward dissolving McGrath’s unit. But its unclear future is the latest casualty of the organization’s muddled position on gay rights, one that has ignited a backlash from both sides of the debate since its proposal. While LGBT advocates were upset the BSA did not put full equality on the table at last year’s national council meeting, others condemned the policy change as a betrayal of the organization’s commitment to faith and family values.

As an Eagle Scout, McGrath thought starting a troop would be a great way to give back to the underserved community of Rainier Beach in south Seattle. So he went to the Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church to see if she’d be interested in sponsoring a unit. According to the BSA’s figures, more than 70,000 scouting troops are owned and operated by chartered faith-based organizations. Corsaro filled out the paperwork with the local Scouts organization, the Chief Seattle Council, and by fall, Troop 98 had been approved.

“The Boy Scout troop meets on Thursdays,” Corsaro told msnbc. “Geoff continues to do his duties and be there for the kids. He will continue to be there for Thursdays to come.”

Although the Boy Scouts essentially practice a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s former ban on openly gay service members, McGrath had been open with Corsaro about his sexual orientation from the beginning.

“I said, ‘That’s fine with me,’” said Corsaro. “We’re an inclusive church--we welcome all. I wouldn’t want to have a troop unless it was fully inclusive.”

It wasn’t until NBC News began profiling McGrath’s unit that his sexual orientation became a problem. When asked about his husband, McGrath answered the question honestly. Soon after, he was informed by the BSA that he was no longer welcome in their organization.

“The scouting values are in conflict with this rather silly policy,” said McGrath. “The folks at the scouting office can’t say what they want to be able to say right now, and they’re hurting much more over this than I am.”

Despite what the national office told him, McGrath plans on staying with his troop until Corsaro, as head of its chartering organization, makes the decision to fire him. As someone who climbed the ranks from Cub to Eagle Scout before even being able to come out to himself in his 20s, McGrath feels it’s crucial the BSA keeps volunteers like him.

“When I was growing up, there was not a single gay individual who I could look to,” said McGrath. “There are 106,000 troops nationwide, and in all of those, you still can’t find a single person who’s out in the adult leadership ranks. As a kid, you can’t develop in your mind what you yourself might look like as you grow up, and you look for a model in how to grow up in a way that’s different from your peers.”

“Kids do now have role models elsewhere,” he conceded, “and gay kids can have role models who aren’t gay. But in this particular area, somewhere they should be able to see somebody they can identify with.”