Opening Old Wounds

Published: Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — David Knapp was expelled from the Boy Scouts of America for being gay more than 15 years ago, and has been in the news over the years protesting the organization’s policy concerning gay members and his exclusion from the Eagle Scout Association.

So he was surprised to receive an e-mail late last year from the Connecticut Yankee Council, the Boy Scouts organization for Southwest Connecticut, inviting him to become involved with the group again by volunteering or donating money. Earlier this month, he received another letter asking him to sponsor an Eagle Scout for an annual dinner.

Knapp, 82, said he thought the officials at the organization must have been aware of his past and had decided he could have some participation, even if he could not be a member.

“Since they wrote me a letter addressed to me by name, I assumed they were sincere in feeling I could be a merit badge counselor or work on the commission or be an Eagle Scout sponsor, and that they were just rising above this very childish, hurtful and discriminatory policy of the national office,” Knapp said.

Knapp, who said he continues to believe the Boy Scouts is “the best youth program in the world” apart from its anti-gay policies, responded to the invitations by offering to be a merit badge counselor for sailing and by supporting a local Eagle Scout with a $175 contribution toward the council’s Eagle Scout Recognition Dinner.

But last week, he returned home to an unpleasant phone message from the Connecticut Yankee Council — officials had run his name by the national organization and were told that Knapp was not eligible to mentor Scouts or attend the dinner.

Louis Salute, Scout executive for the Connecticut Yankee Council, said that someone at the group recognized Knapp’s name and thought it should be checked. Since Knapp was removed from the Boy Scouts, Salute said, he cannot participate at any level.

“Because of an administrative error, unfortunately, he was contacted to attend this event, and when it was realized it was an error, we called to talk to him,” Salute said. “It was our mistake, and we called to apologize. This never should have happened, and it was no attempt to open an old wound or anything with him.”

Salute, whose name was on the first e-mail Knapp received, said he believes the error occurred because of an effort the national office recently made to put together a directory of all Eagle Scouts, whether or not they were still members of the organization. That data was then sent to the local councils, which used it to reach out to past participants.

Knapp, who grew up in New Jersey, earned his Eagle Scout badge in 1944 and attended Wesleyan University before working professionally for the Boy Scouts between 1950 and 1960. He later moved to Connecticut and returned to Scouting as a volunteer, working for the Quinnipiac Council, the precursor to the Connecticut Yankee Council.

A married man with two stepdaughters and one daughter, Knapp said he realized he was gay at age 50, after which he and his wife divorced. He believes a family member outed him to the Boy Scouts, who in 1993 informed him he could no longer be a part of the organization.

Scout leaders said at the time that Knapp was not accused of any misconduct, but of being an “avowed homosexual,” although at the time only close family members knew about his sexual orientation. He is now a member of Scouting for All, which advocates for the Scouts to include all people regardless of spiritual belief, gender or sexual orientation.

In 2000, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the Boy Scouts of America’s right to exclude homosexual members.

Salute said the Connecticut Yankee Council, which was formed in 1998, has not removed anyone because of sexual orientation. When asked whether the council supports the Boy Scouts’ position on gay members, he said, “We don’t have a choice — it’s a national policy of the Boy Scouts of America.”

He added the issue in this instance was not why Knapp was removed, but that the removal precluded him from participation.

Knapp said he is disappointed at the about-face, and is not hopeful the national organization’s policy will change, but he plans to continue to advocate against it.

He added he believes the policy “goes against everything the Boy Scouts stands for,” and has damaged the group at a time when “we need it now more than ever.”

“I passionately believe that,” he said. “When I see all of the lying and deceit and corruption going on among the leaders of our financial institutions and our economic institutions and our politics, I think, you know, ‘Were they ever in Boy Scouts? Were they ever taught the Boy Scouts Oath and Law?’ They’re basic, simple things, but we need it; boy, do we need it.”

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