10 Boy Scout camp staffers quit after gay co-worker fired

Wednesday , July 25, 2012 - 9:11 AM

Ed Fletcher

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Ten members of an a California summer camp staff walked out in response to the firing of a gay staff member, sparking tension over the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay policy.

Sacramento, Calif., BSA officials said the young man was fired not because he is gay, but because he failed to heed repeated requests to dress appropriately for camp. Specifically at issue were his painted fingernails and earring, although one senior official said there were also complaints about his mannerisms and behavior.

Tim Griffin, a 22-year-old Eagle Scout, said he was aghast at being fired Friday morning after eight years on the seasonal staff at Camp Winton in Amador County, Calif.

"I definitely think that the reaffirmation of the anti-gay policy played a role in my termination," Griffin said. The BSA announced last week that it was keeping its policy banning gays.

After the week’s campers left Saturday morning, 10 of about 30 camp staff members resigned to show support for Griffin. The summer camp closes in two weeks.

The decision to fire Griffin came from the Golden Empire Council, which serves 20,000 scouts from Redding to Sacramento and runs two summer camps, including Camp Winton near Bear River Reservoir along Highway 88.

"What it came down to was his failure to comply with management regarding a uniform issue. We gave him plenty of warnings," said Glen Goddard, program director for the council.

Fellow staffers who support Griffin say the firing was entirely about his being gay.

"It was absolutely about his sexual orientation, no question about it," said Graham Littlejohn, an Eagle Scout and the third-ranking staff member at camp until he joined Saturday’s walkout.

Griffin said he is considering his legal options, but he may not find any help in California’s anti-discrimination statutes.

Although state law prohibits firing someone for their sexuality or for failure to meet gender-based norms, a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision found that state laws don’t always apply, said Courtney Joslin, who teaches law at University of California-Davis Law School.

In that 5-4 decision, the Boy Scouts successfully argued that because their anti-gay stance was an essential part of the membership of the private organization they should not be required to admit gay leaders, Joslin said.

The BSA also bans atheists and agnostics and its oath refers to keeping oneself "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."

"It appears that the Boy Scouts can fire someone because they appear to be gay," Joslin said.

It’s unclear whether a gay employee would be viewed differently than a gay adult leader, said Brian Landsberg, who teaches at McGeorge Law School.

The scouts’ reaffirmation of the ban on gays concluded a confidential two-year review of the policy by an 11-member special committee.

The ban ostensibly works much like the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy of the U.S. military that was ended in 2011. The BSA doesn’t inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, but denies membership to openly gay individuals.

Griffin said most people around Camp Winton have known he is gay for years. It became an issue several weeks ago when an adult leader who had accompanied a group of scouts to camp for the week pulled him aside to tell him he was being too gay, Griffin said.

He said he was proud of camp director Joel Adema, who stood up for him. But over the next few weeks Adema asked him to stop wearing the nail polish - which he said started as a quirky tradition years ago.

More than half the staff, male and female, joined Griffin in wearing nail polish, said Kayla Doria, who resigned her post as camp nature director after Griffin’s dismissal.

"It definitely wasn’t just him," she said.

Visiting adult leaders followed up with complaints to Sacramento-based scouting leaders. Scout Executive Jim Martin said the council received four separate complaints. The situation came to a head Friday.

The in-camp tension over the firing of Griffin - the longest tenured staff member - peaked at the Friday night campfire when the camp program director, the No. 2 position, read an impassioned speech about tolerance. He resigned in the morning along with the other staff members.

The support for Griffin shows that the reaffirmed ban on gays is a matter of debate even within the scouts.

Davis, Calif., resident Eric Morgan, an Eagle Scout who worked at Camp Winton in the 1990s, said he shies away from telling people about his scout experience because he doesn’t want to be linked to the anti-gay policy.

"I feel very conflicted. I’ve topped out in an organization that doesn’t like gays," he said.

Sacramento resident Charles Allison, who also worked at the camp the 1990s, said the policy drove him from scouting.

"When I finally came to grips with my own sexuality, that was my cue that it was time for my years at Winton to come to an end," he said.

On the other side, Randy Thomasson, president of the website SaveCalifornia.com, which bills itself as an advocate for traditional family values, said the scouts had every right to dismiss Griffin.

"The scout policy is well known," Thomasson said. "The Boy Scouts have high standards for behavior. The Boy Scouts ought to be commended for maintaining their high standards.

"This guy should not have been working there once he decided he was against their stance on sexuality," he said.

Still, the firing came as a shock to Griffin, a Vacaville, Calif., native who grew up in a scouting family.

"As I grew up in the Boy Scouts, I realized I was queer at a young age," he said.

And although the official policy was that he was not welcome, Griffin said, counselors at summer camp had a different message.

"The thing that really kept me going was Camp Winton," he said. "It was full of enthusiastic role models . the staff taught me it was OK to be who I was."

He first attended Winton in 2001, and, following his older brother’s lead, joined the staff as an unpaid counselor-in-training in 2004. He’s worked there every summer since.

Over the years, he took on more responsibility as he worked toward becoming an Eagle Scout - scouting’s highest rank. Last summer, he was program director. With some time off this year between junior college and a four-year program, he decided to come back for one more eight-week run, this time as a merit badge instructor. But his final summer with the scouts did not end as expected.

"They told me in a very harsh way that I don’t embody the true scouting spirit," he said.

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)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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