MINOT, Maine — Christopher Tiner’s Cub Scout badges and belt buckles still have a place of honor in his living room. But it was honor — and a bit of the 9-year-old’s boredom with Scouting — that led him to quit.
“I didn’t like it that they were kicking people out,” Christopher said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”
He saw national news stories about Eagle Scouts giving back their medals since the organization reaffirmed its stance barring people who are openly gay from participating as Scouts or serving as leaders.
Christopher thought about the camping trips and the wooden cars he’d made, his trophies and his badges. In the end, the good stuff wasn’t good enough to outweigh his growing restlessness with the Scouts or its decision.
“He could make his own decision about it,” said Scott Tiner, Christopher’s father.
In the end, the decision was easy, Christopher said. The Scouts had soured for him. He had stuff to do with his friends, anyway.
Does he regret the decision?
“No,” Christopher said.
However, the move has made him special. No other current Scout in Maine has quit over the gay issue since the Boy Scouts of America announced the results in July of a two-year study, suggesting no change in the U.S. Supreme Court-tested policy.
Eric Tarbox, who serves as executive of the Boy Scouts’ Portland-based Pine Tree Council, said he had heard few complaints since he came on the job two months ago.
In that time, he had been contacted about 10 times on the issue, he said. About half of those people complained, he said. The other half praised the Boy Scouts of America.
As the issue stands, neither Scouts nor leaders are asked if they are gay. However, anyone who is an open and avowed homosexual cannot belong, according to the rules in the national charter.
All councils, including Maine’s two, Pine Tree and Katahdin, must follow the charter.
“We believe that we’re not equipped, nor is it in our current education program, to discuss matters of sexuality, heterosexuality, homosexuality or any kind of sexuality with our children because they’re minors and we don’t have any training regimen,” said Tarbox, whose council includes 10 Maine counties from Jackman to Portland.
“We don’t have ways that we equip den leaders and Scout masters to discuss these issues, nor would we want to have them do that,” he said. “We believe that parents are the ones who should choose the time and the context in which to address with their children matters of a sexual nature.”
Marshall Steinmann, who represents the Katahdin Council, which includes the eastern half of Maine, said he, too, had heard complaints.
“We believe that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to accomplish shared objectives,” he said. “Our role is to equip young people with life skills so one day they can make their own wise decisions.”
Ed Desgrosseilliers of Auburn, who served as the Scouts’ volunteer district chairman in Androscoggin and Oxford counties for the past two years, said it’s an issue that’s clouded in bias.
“I think that, unfortunately, the people who are on the national board are misinformed or misdirected with regard to sexuality and think that somehow leads to pedophilia,” he said. He separated with the Scouts about two weeks ago on an unrelated issue. The Scouts is a private organization and it has the right to set its own policies, he said.
“As a leader, I looked for people who are good people who want to do things for youngsters,” Desgrosseilliers said. He worked to keep them safe from abusers, whether they were gay or straight. The national organization has youth protection programs that help leaders, and most do a good job, he said.
Tarbox boiled down the gay issue to sexual advocacy of any kind, following other Scout councils in broadening its rules.
“It doesn’t matter what adults choose to do,” he said. “Advocating it is inappropriate, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for it. Period. So, frankly, it doesn’t matter what you are. We don’t want to know. It’s simply inappropriate, any of it.”
Someone might even be gay and lead a troop or a pack, as long as his or her sexual identity is never raised, he said.
“We don’t have a form that someone fills out,” Tarbox said. “We don’t say, ‘What are you? What kind of sexuality do you believe in?’ We don’t proactively inquire, anyway.”
That’s not enough, said Scott Tiner, Christopher’s dad.
Though he led Scouts for years, he said he was saddened by the Boy Scouts of America’s reaffirmation.
“When that happened, it seemed like they were never going to change this policy,” he said. He said he likes many of the leaders — “they’re all great people” — and thinks the programs have helped his son and others.
But in the end, he, too, left the group.
“I don’t want to have a membership card to an organization that makes it very clear that this is how they feel,” he said.