Philly, Boy Scouts End Gay-Rights Battle Over HQ

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Boy Scouts chapter that won the right to ban gays from its city-owned headquarters at a federal trial in Philadelphia said it has negotiated a deal to end the decade-long dispute with city officials.

The city had threatened to evict the scouts for violating its anti-discrimination laws, and urged the group to reject national Boy Scouts of America policies that ban gays. But a jury this year found the eviction would infringe on the private group’s right to free association.

Rather than appeal, the city will instead offer to sell the building to the Cradle of Liberty Council for $500,000, less than half its $1.1 million value, council lawyer Jason Gosselin said Wednesday. In exchange, the scouts will forgive the nearly $1 million in legal fees the city was ordered to pay the scouts after losing the case.

“At the end of the day, the Boy Scouts will be writing a check to the city, rather than the other way around,” Gosselin told The Associated Press. “This is a better solution than having to go through an appeals process.”

City solicitor Shelley Smith and council attorney Sandra Girifalco said in a joint statement Wednesday night that all parties had worked hard to find an equitable solution.

“What we have on the table is a win-win situation that resolves the lawsuit, saves the city $1 million and gives the Scouts the opportunity to buy the headquarters they have been in for 80 years,” the statement said. The two said they expected that an ordinance for the building sale would be introduced before the City Council on Thursday.

The Boy Scout oath calls for members to be “morally straight,” which the national group interprets to mean that gays cannot participate. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 split that the Boy Scouts, as a private group, can exclude gays.

The Cradle of Liberty Council, like other councils, has since tried to walk a fine line between appeasing the city, the United Way and other supporters, and the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America.

In 2003, it passed its own nondiscrimination policy but was forced to retrench when the Boy Scouts of America ordered it to conform with national rules.

Jurors at the eight-day trial felt the council was “between a rock and a hard place,” in the words of the foreman, a former Eagle Scout from Lancaster County.

In Philadelphia, the council enjoys $1-a-year rent at the prime downtown site, a stately Depression-era building the scouts had built and maintained on city land. Rent is valued at about $200,000 a year. The council serves up to 75,000 children a year in various programs, including life-skills programs open to girls as well as boys.

There has been just one known case of a gay scout being ousted from the Philadelphia chapter, but the city argued at the June trial that many gay youths may be scared off by the national policy.

Former Scout Greg Lattera, then 25, testified at trial that scouting had meant the world to him as an inner-city child. He said he had not intended to become a flag bearer for gay rights when he spoke about being gay while wearing his scout uniform in a TV news interview. But the publicity cost him his scouts membership, he testified.

A city lawyer at trial urged Cradle of Liberty leaders to muster “the courage of their convictions” and fight the national office.

“This is a conversation taking place all across the country,” Gosselin said Wednesday, speaking of gay rights in society and in scouting. “I don’t think this conflict is going away, but hopefully it is with the Boy Scouts and the city of Philadelphia.”

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


One Comment

  1. Seeuinoz says:

    yep your right… discrimination is allowed… you would think we would be pass that by now…

    1. Mark says:

      Choosing who you spend time with or who you entrust your child to is not “discrimination” – it’s a basic freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

  2. Mark says:

    The city of Philadelphia and scouting have had a legal CONTRACT for more than 80 years concerning the use of this building. The Boy Scouts have kept their end of the contract, including investing millions in the building, and the city tried to unilaterally break the contract. The court rightly decided the city can not do that. That’s why the city can’t suddenly start charging market rates – there is a CONTRACT determining the rent and tenant’s obligations.

    @Seeuinoz: google “U.S. Constitution” and “First Amendment” – freedom of association

    1. PeterC says:

      Mark; yeah, the Boy Scouts had a CONTRACT for 80 years. So, what would happen if the Boy Scouts discriminated against people of color? We’d have to honor the contract then? Probably not. There’d be much more of an uproar. Sexual orientation is as much of a choice as the color of our skin. Yet, we still feel it’s an acceptable form of discrimination. We teach our kids that it’s ok to discriminate against gays.

      Furthermore, 80 years ago, “straight” was not used in the same context as it is now. I don’t know exactly when it was used to mean non-gay. But, it was definitely much less than 80 years. My guess is that what is meant by “morally straight” has nothing to do with orientation, but meaning no deviation from what was considered morally correct. I think someone used “morally straight” to promote the discrimination against gays…

  3. the norm says:

    Stephen…The BSA pays one dollar a year rent. The rent is valued at 200.000$ if it were privately owned.

  4. Seeuinoz says:

    So i can start a club and in my “Oath” I can exclude “Whites”… never know that was allowed in this day of age….

  5. Pachirisu says:

    Stop posting as Stephanie and then Stephen. At least make up a different name, jeez.

  6. Stephen says:

    If the City owns the land, why can’t they just charge rent? Sounds fair to me.

  7. Stephanie Patterson says:

    Now, please tell me – what has being gay have to do with not being “morally straight?” Oh – I see. They have defined being anything other than “morally straight” as being gay. Just another example of a cult supported by charitable contributions.

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