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September 2, 2014

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Boy Scouts ban church that let gay man lead troop

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AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Geoff McGrath displays a vintage Boy Scout Handbook given him as a gift by one of the boys in the Seattle troop he led in Bellevue, Wash., April 1, 2014.

SEATTLE — The Boy Scouts of America has revoked its charter agreement with a Seattle church that refused to remove a gay troop leader after the organization withdrew his membership.

A Boy Scouts attorney told Rainier Beach United Methodist Church last week that it no longer could host troops under the Boy Scouts name.

The church has stood by Geoff McGrath, 49, a Seattle software engineer and Eagle Scout, after his membership in the organization was revoked last month, setting off an impasse between the church and one of the country's most popular youth organizations.

The Boy Scouts of America told McGrath in a March letter that it had "no choice" but to revoke his registration after he said he was gay while being profiled by NBC News.

Boy Scouts of America officials said McGrath violated the group's leadership qualifications. They also said he "deliberately injected his sexuality" into the scouting program when he made statements to the media and the organization about his sexual orientation.

"As a Reconciling Congregation, it's important to us that we are open to all people," said the Rev. Monica Corsaro of Rainier Beach United Methodist. The church supports McGrath because his work reflects its spirit and values.

McGrath has been leading Seattle Troop 98 since its formation last fall. The church also sponsors a Cub Scout Pack for younger boys. A total of about 15 youths participate in the units.

The church has obtained legal counsel to evaluate its options, she added.

The Boy Scouts began accepting gay youth for the first time this year but has continued to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions. Gay-rights groups applauded the decision to allow gay youths to participate, but the move angered people who consider homosexuality a sin and a violation of Scouting values. Some participants eventually left the organization.

McGrath said Monday he will continue to participate in the church's youth program even if it can't use the Boy Scouts name.

"Just because the BSA doesn't want to be involved with this church and these kids, we will still have a robust youth program for our kids," McGrath told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It's one of the best things I do. One of the things that really makes my week is spending time with these kids."

The Boy Scouts of America told the church it violated its charter agreement with the organization by allowing McGrath to continue to serve as an adult leader. It told the church it could no longer use the Scouting program or any of its registered marks or brands.

Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement Monday that "we are saddened by this development, but remain committed to providing all youth with the best possible Scouting experience where the Scouting program is the main focus."

He said the organization has identified a new chartered group to sponsor the Boy Scouts units that were affiliated with the church. It is contacting parents and unit leaders to let them know.

Corsaro said parents who received those letters were upset by it, but that "it's emboldened them even further."

"Our first priority is the kids and that the kids have a consistent quality program with good male role models, and we're going to keep that going," she said.

McGrath, who is married to his longtime partner, said his removal from the Boy Scouts "was a blow."

"Nobody likes to be rejected from the company of people that you have valued," he said. "That said, it's two weeks later. I've had to move on and accept that BSA, both national and regional, is not ready to be properly fully inclusive for all youth and adult leadership."

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