BOYSTOWN — Two months after the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on openly gay parents and adult leaders, the Center on Halsted is poised to become the first LGBT community center to partner with the organization.
The center, 3656 N. Halsted St., is now looking for Scout leaders and mentors for a Boy Scout pack for first- through fifth-grade students. A Girl Scout troop has been stationed at the center for three years.
As the chartered organization, Center on Halsted will facilitate programming and leadership. New scouts will likely be a mix of people "drawn here because of proximity and people intentionally seeking it out" for the LGBT representation, center spokesman Peter Johnson said.
The Center on Halsted partnership "would send a strong message on how to truly be inclusive. This can be a model for the rest of the country on inclusion and leadership," said Mary Anderson, an Oak Park mother who spearheaded local efforts to overturn the ban on LGBT leaders.
Anderson got involved after the Boy Scouts refused to let her be a den leader for her son's troop because she identifies as a lesbian.
In 2013, the Boy Scouts overturned the long-standing policy of excluding gay Scouts amid backlash and pulled donations in the year after it initially reaffirmed the ban. It took two more years for gay parents and leaders to find acceptance within the century-old organization.
"We still have a long ways to go," said Jessica Sage Celimene-Rowell, Center on Halsted's trans advocate and an Eagle Scout. "It's not like all of a sudden there's going to be all these nonheterosexual people invading Boy Scouts. We've already been there. I've been there."
Celimene-Rowell said the "homophobic" ban was wrongly justified as a way to prevent sexual abuse and targeted adult men who appeared more effeminate.
Despite the ban, parents and Scouts of all sexual orientations and gender identities could still participate — as long as they kept quiet about their identities.
"There was still a great diversity of expressions and welcomeness and acceptance," she said. "It just wasn't something that was openly addressed. The atmosphere was such that people had to hide their identities."
Celimene-Rowell said she will push for Center on Halsted to include Venture Scouts in its charter. The coed program for young adults 13-20 years old is a more intense, adventure-focused branch of the Boy Scouts.
"I don't think there should be a Boy Scouts and a Girl Scouts. There should just be Scouts," she said.
As for the center, Johnson said it will defer to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts policy as to which organization is the better fit for a child, particularly nongender-conforming children.
When speaking with Girl Scouts, Celimene-Rowell said she frequently hears the girls express a wish for the outdoor skills that Boy Scouts master from an early age — knot-tying, shooting a bow and arrow and how to survive in the wilderness.
"Any child wants that: Show me that cool stuff. [Girl Scouts] are adapting and changing, but I think there needs to be more sharing between the two organizations. That's what I think scouting should be," she said.
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