Boy Scouts Ban Church From Hosting Troop Led By Gay Man

Scoutmaster Geoff McGrath, right, teaches knot tying to Troop Committee Member Donovan O'Brien at a troop meeting at Rainier Beach United Methodist Church in Seattle, Wash. on March 27. Peter DiCampo / for NBC News file

The Boy Scouts organization has told a Seattle-area church that it can no longer host a troop because the church has vowed to keep a gay man on as troop leader.

The Boy Scouts of America said Sunday that it was contacting leaders and parents of the children in Troop 98 and its affiliated Cub Scout pack to tell them that Rainier Beach United Methodist Church is no longer authorized to be a charter partner.

Boy Scout troops must have a charter partner, which often offers a place to meet and financial support. The scouting organization bans gay adults from membership, and an openly gay man, Geoff McGrath, runs the troop at Rainier Beach.

“Because the church no longer agrees to the terms of the BSA chartered organization agreement, which includes following BSA policies, it is no longer authorized to offer the Scouting program,” Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, told NBC News in an email. He added that the organization was “saddened by this development.”

The BSA’s top leader in Seattle has told parents that a local community center has offered to take over the pack and troop.

Rev. Monica Corsaro of the church outside Seattle said the move was expected, but she said that her congregation’s anti-discrimination beliefs were not being respected.

She also called it a “unilateral decision” by the BSA and said that the church was not consulted. (The BSA said it called Corsaro; she said she could not talk last week during the busy Christian Holy Week holidays.)

“Breaking us up like this seems to go against everything the Boy Scouts is about,” Corsaro told NBC News. “It seems to me that when you are in a dispute with a partner you try to work it out with the partner. It’s very clear we’re not viewed as an equal partner.”

Corsaro said the church would still offer a youth program but had not had a chance to discuss what that would be. About 15 boys participate in either the troop or the pack.

NBC News was reporting on Troop 98 and its Scoutmaster, McGrath, in late March when the Boy Scouts revoked McGrath’s membership as an adult leader. The BSA said because McGrath was openly gay, he could not participate in the organization. Corsaro said at the time that her church would keep McGrath on in his role as Scoutmaster.

The Boy Scouts has grappled with its controversial membership policy barring gays in recent years. In an historic ballot last May, its 1,400-member National Council voted to allow gay youth — but not adults — to join Scouting beginning last Jan. 1.

Troop 98 got its start not long after that contentious ballot. Clergy in McGrath’s Seattle neighborhood wanted to start a youth program because there were few in the area, Corsaro said. The clergy reached out to McGrath, a member of the Methodist Church, to ask whether he could lead a Boy Scout unit.

McGrath, a married Eagle Scout, hesitated because he worried that his sexual orientation would sink the effort. He said he didn't hide his sexual orientation from Scouting leaders, but Seattle’s top BSA official told NBC News that she never knew he was gay.

McGrath is believed to be the first gay adult to be booted from the Boy Scouts of America since last May’s vote. He said Sunday that he was “shocked” by the BSA decision.

“It’s just so astounding to me that they would take this tiny, small issue and dissolve two units over it without having a proper conversation with the pastor,” he told NBC News by phone.

The gay fathers of a child who joined Troop 98 after NBC's article said they had received a letter from the BSA’s top leader in Seattle with the offer to transfer to a troop at a local community center. One of the fathers, Kevin Reed, said they had no plans to go elsewhere.

Their son, Adrian Benitez, 14, said: “I don’t feel too good about it because it’s really offensive to my dads and Geoff.”