Despite a directive from a leader of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), prohibiting scouts from advocating political or social positions, some scouts and adult supporters of Scouts for Equality wore their uniforms Sunday as they marched in Utah’s gay pride parade.
The Utah Pride Parade in Salt Lake City came just a little more than a week after national delegates of the BSA approved allowing gay youth to become scouts.
NBC News reports that Kenji Mikesell, an 18 year-old Eagle Scout and high school senior still active with his troop, said of his decision to wear his uniform in the parade, “It just feels like the right thing to do.”
“It’s kind of a way of saying we want you here,” Mikesell added. He marched with Mormons Building Bridges and his troop is chartered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Scouting has been a very positive influence in my life,” Mikesell said, “and I’d like to see more people take advantage of it now that the ban has been lifted.”
Peter Brownstein, a scoutmaster in Salt Lake City who helped organize the Boy Scouts in the gay pride parade, said some adults and youth marched at the front of the parade in uniform, including a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout and his stepdad, an Eagle Scout, who borrowed a uniform to wear, and an assistant scoutmaster.
Nevertheless, Rick Barnes, chief scout executive with the Great Salt Lake Council, said he learned of the plans for the parade from Brownstein.
“We as a Scouting movement do not advocate any social or political position, so I reminded Mr. Brownstein that we do not wear uniforms at an event like this,” said Barnes. “We do not, as Boy Scouts, show support for any social or political position. We’re neutral. If he wants to attend the parade and others do that are Scouts or Scouters, they’re welcome to do so as private citizens wearing whatever they want except their uniform.”
Barnes added, “That’s our official position. It always has been, there’s nothing new here. We just don’t want people to use the Boy Scouts to advocate their positions.”
Organizing under the banner of Scouts for Equality, a group that campaigns for the LGBT community to be welcomed into scouting, Brownstein began to plan for the gay pride parade after last week’s historic vote prior to receiving Barnes’ directive.
“I am asking everyone to wear their Scout uniforms,” said Brownstein, whose son recently earned the Eagle rank- BSA’s highest honor. “The message we want to send is that Scouting should be open to everyone and it’s a wonderful program and everyone deserves to be included and have the benefits of the program.”
After receiving the notice from Barnes, however, Brownstein said, “Our current plan is to, out of respect for Rick as an individual, we will follow his request and I will not march in uniform. Others may choose differently.”
Following the directive, Scouts for Equality issued a statement requesting that their supporters not wear uniforms.
Brownstein opted to wear a T-shirt that carried the message of inclusive scouting, with a rainbow square knot on it.
Deron Smith, a spokesman for the national headquarters of BSA, said that it was the decision of the local council to determine any punishment for not abiding by the directive.
“These individuals stated a personal opinion and do not represent scouting,” said Smith. “Scouting teaches young people that often in life one finds rules they don’t agree with, but a Scout is to be obedient. To simply disobey a rule because you disagree with it is not an example to set for youth. It is up to each council to determine how best to hold their leaders to the standards of Scouting. We will support the Great Salt Lake Area Council as they determine the appropriate response.”
Mikesell said he wasn’t concerned about any consequences.
“We’re just trying to demonstrate that Scouts can be a part of all parts of society, all parts of life,” Brownstein said. “While I am not wearing my uniform, other people will be. And this is not about me, this is about getting the message out to America [of] inclusiveness in Scouting, the need for equality.”
Following the parade, Brownstein stated, “It felt awesome to proudly represent an organization that is making progress towards change and acceptance…and slowly making progress on opening their organization to many more people who can benefit from the wonderful program.”
“And the progress forward will continue,” he added.