Many within the traditional-scouting movement have watched with equal parts anguish and inspiration as Boy Scouts of America Troop & Pack 98 from Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood fought valiantly for the right to follow their conscience as scouts. They have stood up for a right that we take for granted here in the BPSA; equality. Sadly, their battle with BSA national and their local council has not gone as many of us had hoped. First, Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath, an Eagle Scout, had his BSA/NESA lifetime membership revoked when news broke that he was gay. Then the unit’s charters were revoked when his scouts, leaders, and their sponsoring organization, the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church of (RBUMC), under the leadership of Pastor Monica Corsaro, refused to dismiss him from his post.
Troop 98 began forming in the summer of 2013. It was intended at its inception to be fully inclusive, in both the youth and adult membership. It started out as an idea born of a known community need; a way to bring after-school program opportunities to youth in an under-served, diverse neighborhood. A committee was formed and agreed to be fully inclusive in their membership requirements on the question of sexual orientation. The idea of the Troop was adopted by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the congregation that Mr. McGrath attends, and became the core of their new youth ministry. He was asked to be their Youth Leader.
The committee then reviewed several program options, and agreed to explore partnering with the BSA first. BSA was eventually chosen because the committee members included Eagle Scouts who had deep experience with BSA programming. Additionally, they were encouraged by the vote taken in May 2013 anticipating a membership policy change to begin including LGBTQ people. They reasoned that BSA might be willing to experiment with their group even ahead of the policy change, and in meeting with them were gratified to find they agreed, granting Pack and Troop 98 a Charter in the fall of 2013.
Word of their inclusive troop spread. A reporter from NBC working on a scouting story heard from people in Utah about Troop 98, and contacted Geoff McGrath to do a “troop profile”; to understand why—during a period of membership decline—they were finding success in starting a troop in a Seattle neighborhood. Specifically, the reporter wanted to know if having a gay Scoutmaster was making a difference. This national attention resulted in BSA headquarters’ notice, a reversal of their council’s support, and led to the revocation of Scoutmaster McGrath’s membership and eventually the Pack/Troop charter as well. Months of campaigning, negotiations, and letters of support from the City Council, the Mayor, County Council, State Legislators, the Governor, and the Washington delegation to the US Congress were to no avail. The Council chose to sacrifice McGrath and his scouts instead of standing with them. Click here for the story, courtesy of NBC News.
Throughout their ordeal, Baden-Powell Service Association leaders from across the nation have extended offers of support and invited Scoutmaster McGrath and his scouts to join BPSA’s traditional-scouting association. After months of pursuing a resolution that would honor the unit and church’s inclusive ideals, Pack and Troop 98 leaders, and Rainier Beach United Methodist Church representatives met to discuss reinstatement offers made by their local council. Finding them unacceptable, Rainier Beach’s scout leaders have decided instead to become a BPSA scout group.
Group Scoutmaster McGrath will lead the reborn 98th Rainier scout group forward, continuing the established partnership with RBUMC. In the face of being asked to bar membership based on sexual orientation, and then to disband; they will instead expand inclusivity to include all ages and genders, and will welcome those with and without faith. Traditional scouting, for everyone, has come to Seattle. We call upon their community, which has stood so steadfastly by their side, to rally to their new cause; support their transition and growth.
Please join us in welcoming them back into the scouting movement, even though they never really left. Onward.