In Silver Spring, Rick Meyerdirk was driven by the sweet idea that his son Tyler might join Boy Scout Troop 1444, the same troop Meyerdirk had been in as a kid, meaning that the son’s name might end up on the same plaque as the father’s.
What stood in the way of those simple goals was the Boy Scouts’ policy prohibiting gays from being Scouts or parent volunteers — a policy that the organization announced last week it may reverse at its board meeting on Wednesday. What pushed the Scouts to this turning point was a combination of declining membership, financial pressure from donors, and the street-level reality embodied by people like a straight couple in Silver Spring who want the Scouts to be open to all and a lesbian mother in Northern Virginia who saw Scouting as a great way to serve her community and connect with her son.
Meyerdirk’s wife, Theresa Phillips, didn’t even know that the Scouts banned “open or avowed homosexuals” from their ranks until last summer. That’s when she heard that the Boy Scouts of America, after a two-year study of its policy, had reaffirmed its exclusion of gays, saying they are “not an appropriate role model . . . for adolescent boys” and that gay volunteers would “interfere with the mission of enforcing the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.” In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, upheld the Scouts’ right to exclude gays.
“I did a lot of soul searching, and I had to consider leaving the pack,” says Phillips, a stay-at-home mother with four young children. She had never been an activist, had no ties to any gay rights group, didn’t even know of gays who wanted to join her son’s Cub Scout pack in the Cloverly section of Silver Spring.
But although they had been involved in Scouting all their lives — Rick as a Cub, Boy and Eagle Scout, and Theresa in the Girl Scouts — the couple couldn’t see being part of an organization that excluded some people for who they were, rather than for what they did.
“Gay people are just as worthy of being in the Scouts as anyone else,” Phillips says.
So in September, Meyerdirk and Phillips, who were parent leaders in son Tyler’s pack, put the question to their fellow parents: Should we state on our Web site that “Pack 442 WILL NOT discriminate against any individual or family based on race, religion, national origin, ability, or sexual orientation”?
Yes, we should, said 84 percent of the parents who voted. Yes, you may, said a vote by the Lions Club of Colesville, which sponsors Pack 442. And so Pack 442 plastered its defiance of the national policy on its Web site.
Only one family disagreed strongly enough that they pulled their son out of the pack, Phillips says.