As the Boy Scouts of America considers making a historic change to a policy that has prevented openly gay people from serving in the Scouts, a key figure in town is hoping Greenwich’s council leads the way.
Selectman Drew Marzullo, the town’s first openly gay selectman, is urging the Greenwich Council of the Boy Scouts to speak clearly on the issue and against discrimination, no matter what the national leadership of the organization says. The policy has been a controversial one for years, but has gained more attention in recent weeks once figures were released showing the Boy Scouts of America has lost significant financial support on a national level due to the policy and indications were made that a revision could be coming.
An announcement was expected to be made Wednesday from the Boy Scouts after a three-day meeting on the issue began on Monday.However, on Wednesday morning the Scout leadership unexpectedly deferred the decision until the national meeting in May, saying it needs more time to deliberate. It’s unclear what decision, if any, is going to be made, as there has been intense lobbying on both sides of the issue, with gay rights activists and former and current Scouts calling for a more open policy and some religious groups, which have been closely tied with the Boy Scouts for years, urging no change.
As of deadline, the Greenwich Council, which has long celebrated its historic ties to Boy Scouts of America founder Ernest Thompson Seton, had not taken any position on the issue. A spokesman told the Post on Monday after speaking with Greenwich Scout Executive Kevin O’Shea that the council would hold off on any statement until the national leadership had a chance to make an announcement about the policy.
For Mr. Marzullo, though, that is not enough. He is urging Greenwich’s council to take a lead role on this and say the current policy discriminates against not only gay Scout leaders but gay youth. He said rumored changes that would put more control about the policy on a local level is not sufficient.
“There is no question the Boy Scouts have had an extremely positive impact on so many young lives,” Mr. Marzullo told the Post on Tuesday. “And while I am encouraged the Boy Scout hierarchy is finally considering changing policy, it does not go far enough. This decision should not be left to local chapters to decide. If the Boy Scouts of America believes that bigotry on any level is no longer acceptable, then it should not matter whether you live in Greenwich or somewhere in rural Texas. Independent of this week’s decision by the Boy Scouts of America, Greenwich should make very clear that discrimination is wrong, period. We pride ourselves in town and celebrate the diverse makeup of 60 thousand-plus people. I would ask our local chapter to reverse action today rather than wait.”
Mr. Marzullo is not alone in calling for the change. On a national level, President Barack Obama said on Sunday that scouting should be open to gays. Currently there is no similar policy for the Girl Scouts.
“My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity, the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life,” Mr. Obama said in the interview on CBS. “And, you know, the Scouts are a great institution, that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives. And I think that nobody should be barred from that.”
On the local level, First Selectman Peter Tesei, a member of the Scouts’ board in Greenwich, also said there should be a reconsideration. He said that he hadn’t participated in any conversations about this on the board but felt it was time for more modern attitudes.
“Personally speaking, this is a policy that needs to conform to more modern standards,” Mr. Tesei said. “In terms of whatever the rules that we have here in society and in the workforce where we don’t tolerate discrimination is what the Scout rules should reflect. Times have changed, and I think this is something that should change. I hope locally the leadership here does sit down and have a conversation about this.”
Mr. Marzullo said he was worried that if the decision is made to give more local control when it comes to the policy, it could lead to confusion. He speculated about a future where Greenwich’s council has allowed openly gay members but a new Scout leader comes to town who refuses to sign onto it. He said because of that there had to be a clear message on record from the Greenwich council, and he predicted that unless there is also a clear end to discrimination on the national level for the Scouts, pressure will continue and donors will show reluctance to fund the program.
“To me this possible sudden change is being driven by monetary reasons,” Mr. Marzullo said. “There has been a reduction in contributions, major sponsorship and a decrease in overall membership. Unless there is a firm statement, a national decision condemning discrimination, I would say this will hardly satisfy both past and present donors.”