By Annette Hinkle
Ken Dorph has fond memories of his days as a Boy Scout growing up in Staten Island in the 1960s. Because his family camped, “We were predisposed to the Boy Scouts,” says Dorph. “I learned knots and Morse code, we went to scout camp at the top of Staten Island — which my parents helped create — and in summer, we went to Camp Towadena in New Jersey.
The Boy Scouts were a lot of things in those days — what they weren’t, however, was a religious organization.
“When we said ‘Under God,’ there were no prayers,” notes Dorph. “It was non-sectarian and still officially is when you go to the bylaws. That’s a big change. The scouts have lost the non-sectarian focus outside the east and west coasts. I don’t think people realize how much it’s changed in the middle parts of the country.”
In fact, many troops in middle America are now church-affiliated — especially with the Mormon church. According to a New York Times article published on October 17, 2012, in 2011 Mormon-sponsored packs and troops accounted for more than one-third of the country’s scout units.
“Virtually every Mormon church, or ward, has a scout troop,” the article stated. “Every Mormon boy is automatically enrolled, and the vast majority participate.”
“It’s incorporated into the Mormon process,” says Dorph. “I think that’s the problem.”
And that, notes Dorph, is why families like his are not happy with the state of the Boy Scouts today. It’s also why a petition has begun circulating locally which seeks to end discrimination within the Boy Scouts.
Dorph and his spouse, Stuart Lowrie, are raising two children in Sag Harbor. While Dorph would like his 12-year-old son to experience scouting as he did as a youth — and would like to take part in scouting events as an active parent — because he is gay, Dorph is, according to current scouting rules, officially prohibited from volunteering.
While there are local troop leaders who have said they would welcome Dorph and his son, Dorph notes that with the policy officially on the books, it would take only the complaint of a single parent to jeopardize his participation.
“The thinking now is let them in until someone objects,” says Dorph. “But it doesn’t change the policy. I want to change the policy. It’s discrimination and there’s no logical reason for it.”
For Dorph, the issue goes far beyond Sag Harbor or even Long Island — to Texas and the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America where, on May 24, 1,400 voting members of the scout’s national council will vote on whether or not to amend the organization’s by-laws which currently ban both avowed gay teens from participating in the organization, as well as gay parents seeking to volunteer as leaders.
Rules banning participation of gays in the Boy Scouts of America have been on the books since the early 1990s. Then earlier this year, the national organization offered a proposal that would leave the decision on admission of gay boys and adult volunteers up to individual districts.
“I thought that’s fine,” says Dorph. “I would have been happy with that. So that’s where we thought we were going.”
But ultimately, the national organization backed away from that proposal and came up with the current resolution as a compromise, in that it proposes allowing gay scouts to take part in the organization, but only until they are 18. It keeps in place the ban on participation of gay parents.
“It continues the discrimination,” says Dorph, for whom only a full lifting of the ban on both gay teens and parents will resolve the issue.
To that end, Sag Harbor’s Sara Gordon, a friend of Dorph’s, is currently circulating a petition on change.org (http://chn.ge/10xuLii) that encourages the Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts to reject the current national resolution by supporting a lifting of all restrictions against gay members — both youth and same sex parents.
“I have a lot of compassion for the fear I feel is behind this behavior,” adds Gordon referring to those seeking to ban gays from scouting. “The only thing I can think to do is offer an outpouring of love and help people discover the joy in their neighbors, whether they can relate to them or not.”
“Look at any civil rights movement,” she adds. “The people who are compelled to find the strength within themselves and let go of prejudices are richly rewarded through the act. I was more than happy to support my friend and put up the petition on change.org.”
“This shouldn’t be a religious or a political issue. It’s a human and community issue to me,” says Gordon. “How you treat children and their families and how you don’t.”
“It was an easy lift,” she adds. “I’d love to see 1,000 signatures.”
“If she gets enough signatures, we’ll send it to Suffolk County Boy Scouts and ask that they have courage to take the stand to join others who have said it’s not acceptable and we need to change,” adds Dorph, who notes this most recent effort to change scouting policy began with an ethical discussion between his son and his friends after they saw “42,” the film about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball.
“Afterwards, the boys asked, ‘How could the white people not do something about how Jackie was being treated,’” recalls Dorph. “Most people don’t fight other people’s battles. It’s hard to make waves, cause trouble and create fiction. But 20 years from now, kids will ask, ‘Why did you put up with that?’”