LGBT-friendly Boy Scout unit to launch at Temple Israel
Likely a first for U.S. Reform movement
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Attaining the rank of Eagle Scout often marks the crowning achievement of the Boy Scouting experience. But for Lake Miller of Yellow Springs, who earned his Eagle Scout at 15, it was only the beginning.
A May graduate of Yellow Springs High School, Lake is starting the first known LGBT-friendly Boy Scout unit affiliated with a Reform Jewish congregation in the United States.
Temple Israel’s new Cub Scout pack will also likely be the first Boy Scouts of America (BSA) unit to affiliate with a U.S. Reform congregation since the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) severed its ties with BSA in 2001 over BSA’s ban on gay scouts, leaders, and employees.
Lake is the youngest member of Scouts for Equality’s national leadership council and serves as its social media director. The non-profit advocacy organization voluntarily registers LGBT-inclusive Boy Scout units and provides training to units on how to handle LGBT issues.
“We have a following of 80,000 people,” Lake says of Scouts for Equality. “Our goal was to end the discrimination in the Boy Scouts of America, specifically with the LGBT issue. Three years ago, we got (LGBT) youth allowed. And just last summer, we got gay adults allowed in the program.”
When scouting units register with Scouts for Equality as inclusive, Lake says, this can mark the distinction between units that are legally required to include LGBT scouts and adult leaders, and those that actively welcome LGBT individuals.
“At this point, we’re trying to work past the stigma of (those who think) LGBT individuals are sexual predators in some fashion,” he says.
He adds that BSA units sponsored by religious organizations that don’t believe in LGBT equality are legally exempt from accepting LGBT participants.
Lake established a local Scouts for Equality chapter in the same region as his BSA council, the Tecumseh, comprising Champaign, Logan, Clark, Greene, and Clinton counties.
He says he put the local chapter together because friends of his family, whom he describes as “second moms” — a same-sex couple — wouldn’t allow their son to join scouting.
“They know they’re going to be discriminated against, because they (would be) putting their son into a program that doesn’t stand for something they strongly believe in, because they’re gay. I was fighting the battle for those kids, who I know can’t be in a program that I love.”
He also contacted the Union for Reform Judaism on behalf of Scouts for Equality. Lake’s family originally attended Temple Sholom in Springfield. He gravitated toward Dayton’s Temple Israel when the Springfield temple closed its religious school because of declining enrollment and contracted with Temple Israel’s religious school.
Lake has served as a student teacher with Temple Israel’s religious school and was involved with its youth group.
In May 2015, he wrote to URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs asking for his public support of Scouts for Equality. Two weeks later, Jacobs sent his letter of support.
That summer, when BSA voted to eliminate its ban on gay scout leaders and employees, the URJ lifted its prohibition against BSA units at its member congregations.
“Through that, and with my strong ties with Scouts for Equality, it was a natural thing that we find a URJ temple and we start a unit with it,” Lake says. “And being a member here, and all the amazing things that Karen (Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz) does when it comes to social action, this is the perfect place to host a unit.”
The URJ isn’t able to confirm that Temple Israel is its first congregation to establish a Boy Scout unit since URJ reestablished ties with BSA last year. But Lake confirms that Temple Israel’s Cub Scout pack will be the first Scouts for Equality-registered inclusive unit that is connected to the URJ.
The only other LGBT-inclusive Jewish unit currently registered with Scouts for Equality is a Cub Scout pack based at the Levine Jewish Community Center in Charlotte, N.C. Four Ohio-based Boy Scout units have registered as inclusive with Scouts for Equality: in Cleveland, Oberlin, Columbus, and a Cub Scout pack based at Fairmont Presbyterian Church in Kettering.
The Cub Scout pack at Temple Israel, Lake says, will be open to the entire community, “Jews and non-Jews.” He’ll help with the pack, but because he’s not 21, he can’t be one of the leaders in charge.
“Karen’s going to step up and be a leader,” he says, of the temple’s senior rabbi. Once they sign up the required number of leaders and boys, they’ll submit the papers to the Miami Valley Council. He hopes BSA’s Miami Valley Council will be open to Scouts for Equality’s inclusive unit certification training on bullying and coming out in scouting.
Lake, who identifies as straight, says he was inspired to become involved in LGBT advocacy because of his mother’s work with the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Dayton. He participated in NCCJ’s Camp Anytown program.
“I’ve always been raised with the atmosphere of, you need to fight for the people who don’t have anyone fighting for them,” he says.
In an email to The Observer, URJ President Rick Jacobs wrote, “we’re excited that Temple Israel can help point the way for synagogues and BSA to partner in putting into practice the best values of scouting and Reform Judaism.”
In August, Lake starts as a freshman at Wittenberg University in Springfield, where he plans to study business, “maybe some Spanish,” and will take Jewish studies classes. But he’s intent on doing “as much as possible” with temple’s pack.
“The fight is not near over,” he says. “It’s a total culture change in the Boy Scouts of America.”
To read the complete June 2016 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.