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Former Scout: No-gay policy change would fall short

Posted: February 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Dave McEachern stands in front of the Boy Scouts of America Service Center in Newhall as he holds his son James' Eagle Scout honor book and discusses the Boy Scouts of America's policy on allowing gays in the organization. (Dan Watson/The Signal)

The Boy Scouts of America’s recent announcement that it may change its no-gays policy is a disappointment because it falls short of fairness, says longtime Scouts volunteer and Newhall resident David McEachern.

The organization announced late last month that it might allow local troop sponsors the authority to include or exclude gay members.

“It’s not acceptable to let some groups discriminate and some not discriminate,” said McEachern, adding that he opposed the no-gays policy since it was instituted in 1991.

In Santa Clarita Valley’s Bill Hart District, there are about 90 total Cubs, Scout, Varsity and Venture units. If the organization decides to adopt the policy change, each unit’s sponsor would gain the authority to decide about gay membership.

The Boy Scouts’ announcement has drawn a wide range of responses, from the Human Rights Campaign, which demands the Scouts adopt a nationwide policy to accept gays as scouts and adult leaders, to conservative groups that have led a campaign to demand the no-gays rule remain in place.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which is an American conservative Christian group and lobbying organization, urged members and others to continue calling the organization and oppose the change.

“The BSA national leadership were not prepared for the thousands of Americans who were shocked to hear that an organization that could always be counted on for standing for what’s right was about to cave in to homosexual activists and corporations,” Perkins said in an emailed appeal after the first round of calls jammed the organization’s phone system.

“It is so important that you keep the pressure on, to show them how devastating this moral collapse will be for the Scouts and the country,” he said.

Similar appeals were made by other conservative groups across the country.

McEachern, 70, who’s also a member of the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, says he’s been a Boy Scout since 1954.

McEachern said he earned his Eagle Scout rank and watched the organization develop throughout the years, staying active until 1996.

In the early ‘90s, McEachern said, he was a volunteer assistant Scout master for Santa Clarita Troop 609 in Newhall while his son, James McEachern, 30, was earning his Eagle Scout rank.

The 16-year-old Hart High School student was also beginning to tell family and close friends that he is gay.

“Early on, my son got the feeling that he wasn’t wanted at the national level (of Boy Scouts),” David McEachern said. “The decision to ban gays from leadership roles, by implication, said to young men looking at their sexual orientation that they weren’t welcome in Boy Scouts.”

Since James McEachern was close to finishing his Eagle Scout at the time, David McEachern told his son to stick it out — he could better work to change the organization’s stance from the inside.

“He wasn’t sure he wanted to be a member of an organization that discriminates. I had to push him,” David McEachern said.

James McEachern decided to complete his Eagle Scout project, attain the rank but not disclose his sexuality.

“He didn’t come out, but I think some people knew,” David McEachern said. “He was very cautious. We were aware of the dangers of him being an openly gay man. It was a different time then.”

Within the larger Scouting community, David McEachern and his son heard snippets of “polite discrimination.”

One of the Boy Scout laws requires the Scout to be “brave, clean and reverent.” Though comments were subtle and “polite,” David McEachern said, he heard arguments supporting the no-gays policy based on his son’s “unclean and irreverent” sexuality.

Though David McEachern and his son were aware of the national and religious climates influencing the organization, they never experienced outright discrimination from their troop, the father said.

“His troop loved him. Everyone made sure he got his Eagle Scout,” McEachern said. “The individuals are great. It’s an institutional problem, not an individual problem.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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