At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
– Barack Obama
Sometimes you think you’re grabbing a gecko and you end up yanking on a dragon’s tail.
This, I suspect, was the case Tuesday night when Gulfport resident Denise Wimmer-Lowe stood and suggested that Gulfport put some teeth behind its Human Rights Ordinance. Oh, she said it more pleasantly than that, but that’s the gist of her intent.
Given her calm tone, logical arguments, and respectful demeanor, what’s the problem? She was talking about the Boy Scouts, the 102-year-old group that teaches young boys how to start a fire with kindling, camp without fear and, as its web site boasts, build character.
Well, as long as you aren’t gay. If you’re a little boy who happens to like boys instead of girls, this American institution wants nothing to do with you. That’s not hearsay; the Boy Scouts of America proclaims its stance loudly. Clearly. Proudly. If you’re gay, they not only don’t want you, they won’t have you. If your mom or dad’s gay, they can’t be a den mother or pack leader.
Denise pointed out that Gulfport passed a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) in 2005. Section 26.40 specifically says everyone in the city should have “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any educational institution or place of public accommodation... without discrimination because of age, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic...” and later defines public accommodation to include “public halls.”
Which includes Scout Hall. You know, the building named after the Boy Scouts. The building that, when an architect deemed it not worth saving, occupied almost every council meeting for long enough that I once threatened – in jest – “torch the damn things just to stop the debate.” (Note: never make that joke in front of the police chief.) Gulfport holds scouting dear to its heart.
Unfortunately, in doing so, we’ve sent the message that you can’t discriminate... unless it’s against kids. Nice one, Gulfport.
In all fairness, I don’t think anyone – myself included, I’m ashamed to say – considered that before. Denise merely pointed out a case of institutionalized discrimination, one that’s so ingrained in Gulfport’s very essence that many of us flat out didn’t see it. Yes, we knew the Boy Scouts didn’t allow gay kids or parents, but somehow we never made that association with our own troop. That includes Sea Scouts, too, I guess.
Wow, this sucks. I wish I could say it more eloquently. I think the idea of Scouting is great – I was never a Scout, but I wanted to be. I wanted merit badges. I wanted to learn to bait a hook and go camping and build a fire and all that. When one of my friends got his Eagle Scout in high school, I thought it was the coolest thing.
Here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter how much I think the Boy Scouts offer kids something great. It doesn’t matter if you think being gay is an aberration. It doesn’t matter if you march in Pride or think gay people will burn in hell.
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s hard enough to be a gay kid without being shunned for being honest with yourself, too. It doesn’t matter that it’s just damn cruel to ban a kid for any reason from just trying to take part in something that’s an American tradition. It doesn’t matter that the group rejects volunteers who happen to love someone of the same sex.
None of any of this matters. Not Denise’s points, not my beliefs. Not even yours.
What matters is logic. What matters is the law.
Denise is right, in my opinion on a moral ground but, more germane to this argument, she’s right based on Gulfport’s own laws. Our laws say you can’t discriminate against gay people. The Scouts openly and in writing discriminate against gay people and their children. Allowing the Scouts to meet on city property boils down to city-endorsed discrimination in a city so proud of itself for passing the HRO and leading the charge with the Domestic Partnership Registry.
Like I said, wow.
Denise, as I said, approached the council with respect. She didn’t yell, insult, or condescend. On the Gabber’s Facebook page, we asked readers what they thought. Within moments people failed to show her the same courtesy, calling her “hateful” and a “nutcase.” For asking the city to stop allowing a group to illegally discriminate against kids.
In an interesting turn of events, my high school Eagle Scout friend? When I saw him a few years later, he’d come out of the closet. He seemed happy, and I was happy for him. It had to be hard to live a lie for so long.
Now, about Gulfport – what about you? You passed the HRO. You said it was illegal to discriminate against gay people. Now that Denise brought this (understandable) oversight to council’s attention, what will you choose to do about it?
Are you in or out, Council?
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.