San Diego Teen Eagle Scout Weighs In On Resolution To Allow Gay Scouts
May 16, 2013 1:12 p.m.
Chance Kawar is a senior at Patrick Henry High School. He's an Eagle Scout from Troop 51 in La Mesa. He recently wrote an op-ed in U-T San Diego urging the Boy Scouts to change its anti-gay policy.
Howard Menzer is President of Scouting For All. He wants the Scouts to lift the ban, but has reservations about the wording in the resolution that's up for a vote.
CAVANAUGH: The Boy Scouts of America's national council meets in Texas next week to consider lifting the ban on gay scouts. Currently the Boy Scouts do not allow "open or avowed homosexuals to be members or leaders in scouting." The resolution would allow gay Boy Scouts but not gay adult leaders. The pressure has been growing on the Boy Scouts to change its policy of banning gays, but the outcome of the vote is far from certain. Joining me to discuss the issue are two San Diegans who want to see the ban against gay scouts lifted. Chance Kawar is an eagle scout from Troop 51 in La Mesa, and he wrote an op-ed urging the Boy Scouts to change its policy. Howard Menzer is with scouting for all who wants to lift the ban but has reservations about the wording in the resolution. We invited a representative of the Boy Scouts of America but we're told the organization was not giving interferes at this time. A statement from the Boy Scouts is on our website. Chance, let me start with you. You shared your story in your editorial about gradually becoming aware that the ban on gay boy scouts applied to you. First of all, when did you join the boy scouts?
KAWAR: I joined Cub Scouts in 1st grade, and I crossed over when I was 11 years old into boy scouts.
CAVANAUGH: So when did you start to think that you might be gay and that being gay might be a problem with the boy scouts?
KAWAR: I guess I realized I was gay around 12, 13 years old. And at the time, I wasn't really aware that that would be an issue in boy scouts until I heard a news story on a boy scout who had been kicked out of his troupe for being gay. So it was suddenly an issue that I felt was of concern to me.
CAVANAUGH: But you did not leave the boy scouts.
KAWAR: I didn't. I made a decision at that time that I should keep it to myself in order to be a part of an organization that I loved.
CAVANAUGH: Howard, how long were you affiliated with the boy scouts?
MENZER: I was just short of 55 years when I walked away.
CAVANAUGH: And can you give us an idea of what capacities -- did you start as a cub scout?
MENZER: I began my scouting career in 1945 as a cub scout, crossed over into the boy scouts in 1948. And in 1951, I earned my eagle badge the same year I was tacked into the order of the era. In many 52, I got brotherhood in the order of the arrow. I was a scout master, 23 years total in the boy scouts. I had the district merit in the El Cajon district. I had the scouters A in both Cub Scouts and boy scouts, the scout master's key in boy scouts, I have the religious award, and yes, I am a conservative Jew.
CAVANAUGH: All right. So is this a lifetime in scouting.
CAVANAUGH: And you walked away from it?
MENZER: I walked away because I could no longer tolerate the gay jokes that adults in scouting were telling while I was trying to teach first aid and CPR from them from the red cross to make it safer for the kids to go into the woods with them. And they were doing this in front of 13 and 14-year-old children. And I thought that was pathetic. I asked a number of people who were scout masters and such to leave my meeting, my class because I wouldn't tolerate that. Finally I just had enough of it, and I left at the end of 1999.
CAVANAUGH: Now, were they making these comments because you were gay? Or were they making them because this was part of the culture of the scouts as you understood it?
MENZER: I never shouted out, hey, here I am, I'm gay. I knew at age 12 that I was gay. But we're talking the 1940s into the '50s. I had no intention of going into an institution and getting shock treatments. So I didn't say a word about it. I went through scouting, actually got married. We have three children. I have five grandchildren. We separated in 1994. 1995, I met my present partner, we've been together now for over 17 years. You can tell I like short relationships.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: So in other words what you're saying is that nobody had any idea of your private life. But the idea of telling these gay jokes is something that you found pretty pervasive at least in the boy scouts enviRons you were in.
MENZER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, they're talking in front of children! It's like standing around a camp fire at 10:00 at night, 11:00 at night when the kids were already in their sleeping bags in their tents, but they're not that far away. And they're talking about the bimbo I had last weekend, some of the parents. Uncalled for!
CAVANAUGH: Chance, after you earned your eagle scout, you told your family and your friends that you were are gay. But not your scout troupe. Why is that?
KAWAR: It was a difficult decision for me to make. But I felt like there was not that risk of being outed in my troupe. And so even though I wanted to continue to be a part of boy scouts, I felt like I was in a position where I could share my sexuality with my friends, my family. But I wanted to remain active in boy scouts so I kept that as a topic I wasn't discussing.
CAVANAUGH: And yet the op-ed piece came out in UT San Diego, you identified yourself, the piece identifies the fact to your troupe. What happened after that piece came out?
KAWAR: The piece came out about a year after I earned my eagle scout badge. And there had been a lot of talk in the media at that time about a proposed resolution that would change membership policies in boy scouts of America. So I felt like it was really an opportunity for me to speak up and share my story. Because I don't want this to be an issue that future generations of scouts have to deal with. And I know that for me it was a very personal and a very difficult journey that I made to be in a position where I could be so open about it that I would share it in a newspaper editorial. But I felt like it was something that just needed to be done. I had been hiding who I was for 12 years as a member of boy scouts.
CAVANAUGH: Are you still with troupe 51?
KAWAR: About three days after I published my editorial, my scout master sent out an e-mail to the troupe basically saying they was no longer welcome at meetings. And I have not been back to a meeting since then. Although I have been in communication with some members of my troupe.
CAVANAUGH: Because these are your friends.
KAWAR: These are people I've grown up with. Some of these people I've known since I was in grade school, and I've been going on campouts, meetings every week with them. So it was difficult for me to give all that up. And it's something I'm sad about.
CAVANAUGH: Let me move onto this resolution. The resolution being voted on next week by the boy scouts includes the phrase "no youth may be denied membership in the boy scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." That's the phrase is up for question. Now, Chance, as far as you're concerned, would approving that change resolve the issues of gays in the scouts?
KAWAR: Absolutely not. I support the resolution because I feel it's a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it's positive in that they're saying this is something we're thinking about, we know it's an issue. But it sends a mixed message to youth that's saying for whatever reason, we're going to let you be in scouts until you're 18. But when you're 18, you turn into some kind of predator that we can't allow to be part of scouts even though they have been involved in the organization like myself for many, many years. So I don't get it. It's a little bit hypocritical to me.
CAVANAUGH: Because this says nothing about allowing gay scout leaders?
MENZER: No, it doesn't. But even the part that you just read, not for being gay alone, it also says that all members must be of the highest moral quality. Boy scouts have said that a gay person cannot be moral. So what they're doing is getting a lot of young people to come out by saying we won't throw you out for being gay alone. And then saying well, you're not moral! Go away.
CAVANAUGH: So you think in part, it's a ruse.
MENZER: Oh, absolutely. This is a smokescreen. It's garbage.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you specifically, why do you think there's nothing said in this resolution about the issue of gay scout leaders?
MENZER: They purposefully left it out. There's another resolution that's going to be on the floor about adults. But it says that they must be of the highest moral quality. So again, they're saying the same thing as they are here. There is a third resolution that is going to be there. It is called the LeBeau resolution. It's been signed by some 40 different councils so far. So it's got a lot of weight. If we can get this and the other one voted down, if we can get this out of there, then the third resolution can come up from the floor. That's the only way it's going to come up. If this passes, we're dead in the water. I can go back to my rallies and pickets that I've been doing for the last 12 years.
CAVANAUGH: What would the LeBeau resolution do?
MENZER: It would make the sponsoring institution responsible for the scout master and for who's in the troupe. The match-up of the troupe. According to this, a Catholic church troupe has to accept gay kids. Do you really think the diocese is going to allow that?
CAVANAUGH: This sounds like it's a very complicated political event that's going to take place in Texas next week with this vote. Chance, why do you think this resolution says something about gay scout leaders?
KAWAR: Honestly, I think that the boy scouts of America is trying to find a way to avoid as much conflict as possible. And they want to settle this. This is not something is they want in the press because they're getting a lot of bad press for it. They're losing corporate sponsors. So they want to brush this issue under the rug. And I think that this resolution is an attempt to do that. But it's not going to be successful because it still has that message to gay youth that, okay, we're going to allow you to be in the troupe now, but later, no. So I don't think you can have -- you can say, well, at this age you are okay, but at this age you're not okay. I think there's something wrong with that. And so I think that this is not going to be an issue that goes away, even if the resolution passes.
CAVANAUGH: In your editorial, you referenced something that Howard said. And that is the fact that you feel boy scouting has been taken over in a sense by a lot of conservative religious organizations. And you point to Catholic scout troupes and Mormon scout troupes. What kind of influence has that had on scouting?
KAWAR: Well, I believe it was about the 1980s when you really saw more of an influence on some of these religious organizations that they had in the boy scouts of America. And I think they've tried to allow their own values to influence boy scouts of America, the boy scouts policy. So I don't think that's a positive thing. I think that troupes should be able to be independent of religion. Scouting represents a wide range of religions, there's Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims. So I don't think that any one religion's policy should be forced in this really diverse organization.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Howard says that he wants to see this resolution defeated. But you support this resolution. Tell us why.
KAWAR: I support the resolution because I really do think it's a step in the right direction. Obviously it's not enough for me. I wouldn't be able to rejoin my troupe because I'm still -- I'm 18 years old. But I think that it definitely opens up a dialogue that we can now have a conversation about. Can we have gay people in scouts? And if you're saying yes to youth, then maybe at some point down the road, maybe we'll be able to say yes to adults.
CAVANAUGH: Howard, that's kind of how the opponents of this resolution feel in a sort of flipside way to what Chance said. They say this resolution is the start of having an organization, a scouting organization that allows gays on every level. Could you see this promoting that down the line?
MENZER: I see this particular item as a smokescreen. I don't think it has any value whatsoever. I don't think it's going to change one little thing. And I'm going to be down in Texas, making my views known, outside. And if I get a chance to speak with the press inside, I'll do that as well. But I'll be there. And I'll be there in my scouts uniform.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Chance, it sounds from the reaction that you had with your troupe that San Diego is pretty much in line with the national organization. In some ways, San Diego is a little ahead of the curve. But not so much on this issue.
KAWAR: Well, actually, I think that at least in my troupe, I can't speak for all troupes, there's a big divide in opinions. After I published my editorial, many, many scouts, adult leaders in fact in my troupe reached out to me and said Chance, we support you, are and we don't like the policy, and we wish you could continue to be a part of scouts. We've seen you as a leader and you're a good person, and your sexual orientation has no bearing on your abilities as a scout. So I do think that people are changing their minds about this and realizing that really being gay or straight or whatever shouldn't matter. Of that's not what scouting is about. Scouting is about being trustworthy, loyal, courteous, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. There's nothing in there about being straight, and there shouldn't be.
CAVANAUGH: Do you think this resolution is going to pass?
KAWAR: It's so hard to tell. The boy scouts of America has been really secretive on their process of how they're selecting those who are going to this vote. And they've also not been very clear on what the constraints are and how the voting process works. So to be honest, I don't know. But I'm hopeful that we're in the 21st century now, and a lot of people are starting to realize that gay people are just like them. We're not so different after all. And I think if they realize that, and we can come together and do something positive, then I think this resolution has a chance of passing.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you both very much for coming in and speaking with us.
MENZER: My pleasure.
KAWAR: Thank you so much, Maureen.