Seventh-grader Senicka Arciaga-Spears wants to be a Boy Scout. Over a homemade Sunday evening dinner, he tells his two moms, Eliza and Kelly, that he wants to learn survival skills in the Scouts — including fishing and “dangerous hiking.”
Eliza would like her son to join the Scouts, too. “They teach discipline and obedience and respect and self-sufficiency, I want that for him,” she says. “I want him to learn those things and be surrounded by those things.”
So when Eliza heard earlier this year that the Utah Pride Center, a LGBT organization, was trying to organize a scout troop with the help of local Scoutmaster Peter Brownstein, she approached Brownstein about Senicka joining if the center’s application to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was approved.
“The idea was to create something not just that would be inclusive of LGBT youth, but also youth who are interested in the benefits of scouting without being a part of the Church to do it,” Brownstein says of the center’s application.
The church Brownstein is referring to is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of the more than 2,700 troops in the Great Salt Lake Council, 99 percent are chartered by Mormon congregations. Brownstein wanted to create alternatives for scouts who are not LDS, and says the mission of the Utah Pride Center is similar to principles in the Scout oath and law: “Helping people in the community and service,” he says. “And a large part of the scouting program is built on service, helping others who are less fortunate.”
Brownstein found almost a dozen families willing to sign up their boys and approached Charles Frost of the Utah Pride Center about sponsoring such a troop. The BSA voted in May to allow gay Scouts, but not gay adult leaders. The center says its troop, if founded, will observe that rule.
The center’s initial efforts, Frost says, were warmly received by some scout volunteers.
“We were told that with our reasoning, especially with multiculturalism and reaching out to youth of color, that that was a big initiative within BSA and that we would probably be successful,” Frost says.
The center has applied for a charter twice, but was twice rejected for the same reason: mission misalignment.
Rick Barnes, Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council, says officials with the National Council told him that the missions of the Utah Pride Center and the BSA were not compatible. Barnes says he respects the Utah Pride Center and their efforts, but he doesn’t believe scouting should partner with advocacy organizations.
“Creating controversy isn’t going to help anyone,” he says. It just alienates more people on both sides.”
But that sentiment leads the Pride Center’s Charles Frost to wonder if scouting is ready to welcome gay youth.
“I think what it does show is that there is some compassion for understanding boys with, you know, same-sex attraction. We’re here to help youth,” Frost says.
Since the decision in May to allow gay youth but still ban gay adults, scouting has lost members on both sides of the issue. Some evangelical Christians have left to form their own youth program. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors who say the decision doesn’t go far enough are ending their funding of the BSA.
“By calling us a distraction, it allows BSA to remain ignorant,” he says. “And to remain an organization that shames people and doesn’t allow them to be truly authentic and whole,” Frost says.
The Utah Pride Center plans to keep recruiting families until they have enough potential members to convince the BSA to grant them a charter.
Back at the Arciaga-Spears household, Senicka’s mom Kelly says that even though scouting isn’t perfect, she and Eliza still believe Senicka would benefit from the program.
“Our son is interested in the same thing yours is interested in,” she says. “And we’re not any different than anybody else’s moms. We want to teach you how to sew on the badges that you earn.”