After being granted the privilege to refuse membership to homosexuals, the Santa Barbara Boy Scouts hope the county will not discriminate against their group.
On June 28, 1999, the United States Supreme Court decided the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, are entitled to ban homosexual membership. The same day, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a lease of the county-owned Manning Park Youth Center – commonly known as the Scouthouse – granting Boy Scout Troop 33 continued exclusive use of the building’s top floor for another 25 years.
The county has since terminated the lease citing it as a violation of its anti-discrimination ordinances because of the Boy Scout’s exclusion of homosexual members. The Board of Supervisors made their decision after Los Padres Boy Scout Council Head Leonard Lanzi was fired by Boy Scout officials when he announced that he was gay during testimony before the board in support of the Scouthouse lease.
Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall’s assistant, Mark Chaconas, said the county had to comply with its anti-discrimination policies in this matter.
“The Boy Scout policies conflict with anti-discrimination policies. The board felt it was necessary to terminate any exclusive contract with this group,” he said.
In 1988, the county wanted to tear down the Scouthouse because its dilapidated state could not be repaired with $90,000 the county allocated toward renovation.
Susan Keller, mother of a Troop 33 member and fundraiser of the Manning Park Center Youth Renovation Project, raised $175,000 for the Scouthouse’s renovation in hopes of keeping the location available for Troop 33.
“We begged and pleaded with the county to help fix up the building and in 1988 the county set aside $90,000, but once they started exploring the building they realized that it wasn’t nearly enough money,” she said. “So, we started fundraising and the county guaranteed us that in consideration they would renew the lease with the Girl Scouts that had a clause allowing [Boy Scout] Troop 33 use of the third floor for their meetings.”
However, since the lease’s termination, the $175,000 has remained in the hands of the Montecito Foundation, a non-profit organization that agreed to support the project and hold the money raised for renovation. Keller said there is an obligation to contributors to use the money as originally intended.
“We promised donors that their contributions would be going towards the preservation of the Scouthouse for the use as a youth facility where Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts would meet,” she said. “We made a promise to them, and now because of the county’s decision, the money is just sitting there.”
Chaconas said the funds raised did not affect or influence the county’s decision.
“Everybody is looking at those contributions to upgrade the house. But, if those funds are now unavailable [because of the lease termination], the county is going to have to look at ways to upgrade the place,” he said. “But the funds did not play into the decision-making. It was solely the fact that the Boy Scout policies are in conflict with our own.”
Santa Barbara County Human Relations Commission representative Mary O’Goreman said the discriminatory Boy Scout policies led the county to sever ties with the organization.
“This issue has been going on in the Santa Barbara County Human Relations office for the past eight months. The original recommendation was to end all relations with the Boy Scouts,” she said. “[The lease termination] is the most concrete example of this separation. It is also the most direct.”
Despite the county’s termination of its relationship with the Boy Scouts, though, the organization will still be allowed to use the Scouthouse on a reservation basis, O’Goreman said.
“Legally, the Public Access Law says that no group can be excluded from a public facility. They are supposed to have equal access,” she said. “We’re going to propose a resolution to discuss the future of the building on March 20. The goal that has been expressed [of the March 20 meeting] is to make sure that the building will be accessible to all groups on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Sharon Wrinkle, a volunteer Girl Scout leader, said she hoped the March 20 meeting will allow the Boy and Girl Scouts to continue to schedule regular meetings at the Scouthouse on a “no-fee basis.”
“We don’t know what the board is going to decide. We hope that they will allow for both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts to be able to reserve space maybe a year at a time. There is plenty of time when the scouts aren’t using it for other youth organizations to use the space,” she said. “We are just keeping our fingers crossed that we can use the space, and especially that the space will be available on a no-fee basis. We can’t afford to pay rent.”
Keller said the board’s efforts to fight discrimination negatively affects the children in the community.
“The trouble is the target being hit is not the target,” she said. “The local scouts are the ones being hurt. This is a fight against national policy on a local level and the boys are the ones who are being most affected.”