Michael S. Geller, who waged a court fight after he was expelled in 1992 from the Boy Scouts of America for being gay, was an adult leader of a troop in Owego, N.Y. An article in the Nov. 8 Metro section incorrectly identified the community. (Published 11/13/02)
The Boy Scouts of America did not act illegally in rejecting two gay men as scout leaders, a D.C. appellate court ruled yesterday, overturning a ruling issued last year by the D.C. Commission on Human Rights ordering that the men be reinstated.
Besides losing their bid to return to scouting, Michael S. Geller and Roland D. Pool will not be able to collect the $50,000 each they were awarded by the commission in damages from the Boy Scouts and National Capital Area Council.
The D.C. Court of Appeals found that the commission's ruling was flawed because of a June 2000 Supreme Court ruling declaring that the Boy Scouts of America was within its rights when the organization expelled another adult scout leader because he is gay.
The Supreme Court overruled the New Jersey Supreme Court in ruling 5 to 4 that the Boy Scouts had a First Amendment right to "expressive association" that would be violated if it was forced to admit a gay man, James Dale, as an assistant scoutmaster. But one year later, the D.C. commission relied on the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 and found that Geller and Pool were illegally subjected by the Boy Scouts to "humiliation, embarrassment and indignity."
In yesterday's ruling, Appellate Judges Stephen H. Glickman, Michael W. Farrell and Inez Smith Reid said they were compelled to abide by the Supreme Court decision because they could find no significant difference between the two cases.
The commission contended that Dale was a public gay activist but that Geller and Pool gave no indication they would advocate homosexuality as Boy Scout leaders. As a result, the commission declared last year, "the District's interest in eradicating discrimination outweighs the Boy Scouts' right of expression."
But the appellate court disagreed, saying Geller and Pool had indeed been vocal about their homosexuality.
George A. Davidson, a New York-based lawyer who represented the Boy Scouts, said he was pleased with the court's decision.
The Boy Scout code mandates that scouts must be "morally straight," and Davidson said that "homosexual conduct is not morally straight." Dale, Geller and Pool did not belong in leadership roles in the Boy Scouts because they would likely "advocate a lifestyle contrary to the dictates of the scout oath," he said.
Geller, 40, who lives in Washington, maintained that the appellate court "misread the whole thing." In 12 years as a scout leader, he said, he never shared his homosexuality with youths.
"It's a bitter disappointment after 10 years of fighting this," Geller said.
Pool, 41, who now resides in New Mexico, also took issue with the court's determination that he and Geller were vocal about their homosexuality.
"We never went around carrying a flag that we had this case against the Boy Scouts, and other than being involved in many community gay organizations, that's about as public as we were," Pool said.
Cornelius Alexander, the chief hearing examiner for the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, expressed disappointment with the court decision. Merril Hirsh, the lawyer who represented Pool and Geller, declined to say yesterday whether he will seek another review of the case.
Geller was an adult leader of his troop in Oswego, N.Y., before moving to Washington. His membership was revoked in 1992 after he wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts in response to a Washington Post article that quoted the National Capital Area Council's top official as saying that gay men were inappropriate role models.
Pool, a Louisiana native and former computer specialist and geologist at the Smithsonian Institution, was rejected by the scouts after he indicated that he was gay on an application to be a scout unit commissioner.
"It feels like I lost my best friend," Pool said yesterday. "I feel like it was one of the most important organizations influencing me as I grew up. I gave all that up to stand up for what I thought was right, and now it looks like I will have given that up for life."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.