Scouts, leaders take heat for participating in Utah Pride

When you are around Dave McGrath, you know you are near a passionate man. When he is presenting the colors, it is done by the book, with a gruff reverence and respect. A partially untucked shirt will get admonishment before going on stage.

McGrath’s twin brother is gay, as are two of his six sons. He and his straight son, Army Specialist Joe McGrath, not only appeared in the Utah Pride Parade and the opening ceremonies of the Utah Pride Festival, but they just returned from Boise Idaho’s Pride, where they performed the same services.

But perhaps their grander feat for equality within scouting’s ranks was when the father and son rode 1,800 miles from their home in Idaho Falls to the national Boy Scouts of America offices in Irving, Texas (through the horrific storms in Oklahoma that pervaded the newscasts for a week) to await the decision of the national organization on whether gay scouts and leaders could remain in their ranks.

“We are on a crusade to end discrimination,” he said when they stopped along the route in Pocatello to protest the city council’s recent failure to pass a nondiscrimination bill. Three council members voted for the bill and three voted against. The mayor broke the tie by voting no. Dave McGrath chastised the three councilmen and Mayor Brian Blad for casting votes against the ordinance.

The duo stopped in Salt Lake City and joined Utah scouts and cyclists in a ride around Temple Square.

“We came to this place here because this place represents an institution that I loved growing up,” Dave McGrath said. “This institution is the largest supporter of the Boy Scouts of America in the United States.”

As is well known, the BSA chose to allow gay scouts to remain members, but disallow adult leaders who are openly gay.

“The world has shifted. A quarter-turn,” he wrote on his blog after the announcement. “We are thrilled. We are pleased. We are not done. We have a duty. We will do our duty.”

Both Dave and Joe were asked to do both the opening ceremony for the festival and be the color guard at the parade. They were joined by Scoutmasters Peter Brownstein and Neil Whittaker and Whittaker’s Eagle Scout son, Kobe McDonald.

They met with Great Salt Lake Council executive Rick Barnes, encouraging him to “make Scouting available to all boys in our council.” Barnes, however, emailed that, “having uniformed Scouts and Scouters in the Gay Pride Parade is not acceptable and not allowed. The new policy states that no person, youth or adult, may use Scouting to promote sexual orientation, or any other political or social agenda.”

McGrath, Whittaker and McDonald, along with Eagle Scout Kenji Mikesell, wore their uniforms at the parade, as did an unnamed cub scout. Brownstein chose to march, but not in uniform.

“I was essentially intimidated and told not to wear my BSA uniform,” Brownstein said. “I am unfortunately not in my uniform, but I am glad others chose to do so.”

After the festival and parade, Deron Smith, a spokesman for the national headquarters of the BSA, said it was up to the local council to determine any punishment.

Indeed, officials with the Great Salt Lake Council called the Brownstein and Whittaker in, showed a photo with Whitaker in uniform at the parade and demanded they sign an apology letter for “violation of [BSA] policies and disobedience.”

“We were very disappointed that you used Scouting to advance the gay agenda at the Utah Pride Parade on Sunday in Salt Lake City,” the letter by Barnes and Council President Bry Davis stated. It also warned that a similar future offense could lead to their dismissal from Scouting.

The men refused to sign the apology letter, stating their participation was one of patriotism at a cultural event. There was no political statement being made by marching with the flag in the parade.

“We weren’t rallying for a politician or political event,” Whitaker said. “To me, it was being supportive of my fellow human beings.”

“Like the Days of ’47 Parade, which commemorates the journey and struggle of Mormons as they arrived from across the Plains so many years ago, the Utah Pride Festival commemorates the journey and progress of the LGBTQ community, a community that has also endured a long history of being marginalized, victimized and oppressed,” Utah Pride Center Executive Director Valerie Larabee wrote in a statement. “Any discipline or questioning of members of the Scouting family who participated in our procession as a member of our color guard, a unit carrying our nation’s flag, would be deplorable.”

There is no word on any further ramifications for Whittaker, but BSA officials say the scouts will not face punishment.

The McGraths were guests of the Human Rights Campaign at their gala dinner the Sunday following Pride.

Dave’s twin, Geoffrey McGrath, marched in the Portland Pride parade in his scout uniform, carrying the POW/MIA flag on June 16. Q

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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One Comment

  1. I just added the 29,999th article on our website – one I had neglected to add from our print version on the Boy Scouts in the Utah Pride Parade.

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