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  Toronto Starts Gay, Lesbian Scouts

The Associated Press
Wednesday, Nov. 3, 1999; 4:11 p.m. EST

TORONTO –– A scouting troop for gay and lesbian young adults has been set up in Toronto, apparently the first of its kind in North America.

The 129th Toronto Scouting Group, which began meeting recently, is the same as any other troop except for the sexual orientation of its members, said troop co-founder Bonte Minnema.

Open to people aged 18-26 – a level of scouts called Rovers, the oldest group in the Canadian program – it describes itself as a gay and lesbian troop.

"There isn't one in Canada and they're not allowed in the (United) States," Minnema said. "There are other lesbians and gays involved with scouting, but not a specific lesbian and gay scouting group that we know about."

News reports of the troop emerged Wednesday, prompting "a lot of phone calls," said Andy McLaughlin, a spokesman for Scouts Canada, the national scouting organization.

He said the new troop only needed go through the formality of completing paperwork and paying fees to join the national organization. McLaughlin said it was the only gay and lesbian troop he knew of in Canada.

Scouts Canada differs from its U.S. counterpart in being more decentralized, with McLaughlin describing it as a community-based, grassroots organization in which the national level exists to support the local troops.

In the United States, lawyers for the Boy Scouts of America have asked the Supreme Court to maintain the organization's ban on gays. The move follows an August decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that the Boy Scouts had illegally discriminated against an assistant scoutmaster dismissed because he revealed his homosexuality in a newspaper article.

Minnema, 23, told The Globe and Mail newspaper he became involved in scouting at age 5 and wanted to create an accepting environment for gays and lesbians in Scouts Canada.

"Scouting is more than just outdoor stuff. It's all about young people reaching their full potential," he was quoted as saying.

Lesbian and gay youths face discrimination that can cause isolation, depression and suicide, he said, adding that he hoped involvement in Scouts Canada would mean "fewer people will have to have those experiences."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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