With Rainbow Neckerchiefs, Celebrating Pride and Progress at Parade
Boy Scouts Make Provocative Statement at Gay Pride Parade
The color guard leading the annual Gay Pride March down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday carried flags of sky blue, navy blue, red-white-and-blue and rainbow. But, for these marchers, the colors that mattered most were the ones they wore.
Khaki shirts, olive pants and rainbow neckerchiefs: the Boy Scout uniform, pride-style — a uniform that had never been seen on a group of marchers in New York City’s pride parade before.
They had come to mark progress — the Boy Scouts of America’s breakthrough vote last year to end a decades-old policy of prohibiting openly gay youths from being scouts — and to call for more. However, the organization, a touchstone of traditional America, still bars openly gay adults from participating as troop leaders or volunteers. Ending that ban has become a signature cause for the gay-rights movement.
“I want gay parents to have the opportunity to scout with their children,” said Greg Bourke, 56, who said he was forced to step down as a leader of his son’s troop in Kentucky two years ago after local Scouts officials learned he was gay and threatened to revoke the troop’s charter. “Adult leaders should have the same opportunities as everyone else has to take part in an organization that’s a bedrock of America.”
As parade outfits go, the scouts’ attire was among the tamest. Just ahead of them, one man’s head bore a live parrot; another’s back had sprouted enormous white wings. A third wore little more than a pair of red briefs spangled with gold medallions, and roller skates.
David Knapp, on the other hand, sported olive-green tube socks, black sneakers and a neckerchief from the National Scout Jamboree of 1993, the year Scouts officials in Connecticut knocked on his door and expelled him from scouting after decades as a scout, professional staff member and volunteer.
The black-and-white sign Mr. Knapp, 87, carried said it all: “Boy Scout leader kicked out for being gay.”
Yet his and the other marchers’ uniforms were a provocative statement. Boy Scout officials have said that scouts are forbidden to wear their uniforms in events that support social or political positions, including gay pride events, and have disciplined scouts and scoutmasters in other states for doing so. But the New York area council has adopted a nondiscrimination policy that leaders of the parade group, called Scouts for Equality, said they believed would protect them.
A spokesman for the national organization declined to comment on the group of marchers, which included parents and straight supporters of the gay rights movement as well as gay and straight scouts and leaders. (In addition, a contingent of tiny Daisy Scouts and Cub Scouts trotted around, waving marriage equality flags).
Mr. Knapp has spent the years since his ouster agitating for gay rights in scouting, and has marched in the parade for years with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or Pflag, a national group, carrying a version of the same sign and wearing his uniform. “I was in total shock, because everything I’ve ever done in scouting has been good,” Mr. Knapp said of the day he was expelled.
Recalling how he first fell in love with scouting as a 12-year-old in 1938, he added: “I wasn’t an athlete, but I loved the outdoors and camping and all that. I was more of the introverted, studious intellectual — I didn’t have many friends. So it was wonderful to have friends.”
As he spoke, his boyfriend of 14 years, Stan Wright, 82, fussed over him, handing him water, a juice box and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “I’m very proud,” Mr. Knapp said, smiling between bites. “Very excited.”
Nearby, Pascal Tessier, 17, of Kensington, Md., who is believed to be the first openly gay Eagle Scout, patiently awaited the start of the festivities.
“I woke up that morning very nervous, thinking, ‘This could be the last day I can call myself a scout,’ ” he said, referring to the day of last year’s vote to allow gay youths. “Looking back, I know scouting shaped my childhood. It made me who I am today. It taught me how to lead, taught me how to be respectful and responsible.”
The scouts did not take their “marching” lightly. No meandering on the asphalt for them, no dancing and high-fiving the spectators. As they stepped off to frenzied cheers from the crowd, lifting their flags, Peter Brownstein conducted their progress in low, determined tones, as if he were directing a military procession: “Left, right, left right left right.”
As the group passed the Stonewall Inn, the West Village bar known as the birthplace of the gay-rights movement, he and the other marchers paused and gave the Scout salute.
Mr. Brownstein, a Boy Scout leader from Utah, was forced to leave his troop after marching in the Salt Lake City pride event last year. That did not deter him in the least from coming to New York’s celebration.
“We’re showing,” he told his fellow scouts, “that we belong.”