In Salt Lake City, A Boy Scout Troop That Welcomes Gay Parents
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You might remember the Boy Scouts of America recently made headlines. They ended a ban on gays and lesbians serving as adult volunteers. There was a lot of resistance to this move, led by the Mormon church. This morning, what life is like in one Boy Scout troop in Salt Lake City that defied the ban when it was in place. Here's Terry Gildea from member station KUER.
TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: Every Tuesday night, members of Troop 38 meet at Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. Scouts and leaders begin by reciting the scout oath.
UNIDENTIFIED SCOUTS: On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.
GILDEA: Learning and honing outdoor skills are a part of every Troop 38 meeting. Tonight, assistant scoutmaster Steve Hempel demonstrates how to cast a fishing rod.
STEVE HEMPEL: Here, you grab that one.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: I think I remember how.
UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: They're not thingy-ma-bobbers. They're bobby-ma-thingers.
HEMPEL: So the first thing you need to do - so everybody pay attention so that we all can hear this.
GILDEA: Hempel has volunteered with Troop 38 for two years. His sons, Justin and Ryan, are in the troop, and his husband, James Ord, is also a volunteer. Leaders, kids and the unit's chartering organization, Wasatch Presbyterian Church, welcomed Hempel and Ord even though at the time national BSA policy forbid their involvement. Hempel says everyone was just excited to have another parent involved.
HEMPEL: You don't come up to me and identify yourself, I'm a straight person in this gay troop. It's not about our orientation, and that was what was really refreshing.
GILDEA: Hempel grew up Mormon and became an Eagle Scout in his local LDS troop. After he came out and ended his marriage with his wife, two of his sons continued to participate in the Mormon troop. But when Hempel's son, Ryan, asked if his dad could come on a camping trip, the bishop of the ward repeatedly said no. That changed when they joined Troop 38.
HEMPEL: He got the answer, yes, and he didn't cry. He didn't, you know - he's a tough kid. You could tell he was really happy at the fact that I could go. I could be an active participant.
GILDEA: While Hempel and his boys found a welcoming and positive atmosphere, his husband, James Ord, was still a little apprehensive to become fully involved in the troop.
JAMES ORD: So when I was invited to become a full participant, it was a huge shift for me because it said, oh, I'm actually truly welcome in this space.
GILDEA: Both were also concerned how scouts may or not accept a gay couple as adult leaders. Ord remembers fielding a question from a scout who wasn't sure whose dad he was.
ORD: He was a bit confused. He gave this look like, wait a minute, the other guy was your dad. Well, who are you? And I said, well, I'm their stepdad. I'm married to their dad. And he said, oh, and then, that was the end. And he was just completely, OK, that makes sense.
ALLAN MCINNIS: What does make the difference is that somebody shows up and is willing to help.
GILDEA: Allan McInnis is the scoutmaster of Troop 38. He says sometimes it's hard to motivate enough parents to get involved.
A. MCINNIS: It's rare to actually have two folks, both halves of the family, contribute. In Steve and James' case, they're both passionate about the contribution and being part of the team.
KADE MCINNIS: OK, guys.
GILDEA: As they wrap up their Tuesday meeting, scout Kade McInnis announces plans for the next camping trip.
K. MCINNIS: Our next month is going to be water sports, so our campout is going to have canoes and kayaks. This can be lots of fun. I'm really excited to go.
GILDEA: Then, everyone gathers in a circle to fire off the official troop yell.
UNIDENTIFIED SCOUTS: Teddy roo, teddy rah, teddy rubby dubby flubby dubby shish kum bah (ph). Troop 38, rah, rah, rah.
GILDEA: Since Steve Hempel and James Ord joined Troop 38, other gay parents have joined the unit with their kids. They hope to be role models for other troops around the country who are considering welcoming gay leaders and families into scouting. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.