On NOT Defending the Indefensible

A little controversy popped up in Montpelier a couple of weeks ago, and even though it's no longer a debate in the City Council, it's still attracting attention and generating some angry words.

Okay, I'm not going to bury the lede: Mayor John Hollar and Councilor Thierry Guerlain did the right thing when they stood up for principle even when the other side was the ultimate American-as-apple-pie organization, the Boy Scouts of America. 

Let's start with what did not happen. The Montpelier City Council did not bar the Boy Scouts from the city's annual Independence Day celebration. It's true, they won't be there selling bottled water or collecting garbage, but it's also true that they chose not to make their case to the Council.

The Montpelier City Council publishes an agenda for every meeting, and part of that agenda is called the consent agenda, a list of items that are considered so uncontroversial that they can be expected to pass without debate. Any member who thinks an item on the consent agenda will require debate can ask to have that item removed from the consent agenda.

That's what happened a couple of weeks ago, when Council member Theirry Guerlain asked to have the request by the Boy Scouts for permission to sell bottled water removed from the consent agenda. Guerlain's reasoning was that the anti-gay position of the Boy Scouts of America is a big deal, and is worthy of full debate. All but one of the council members agreed, so the request was passed to the next scheduled meeting, last Wednesday.

What happened next was pretty simple: faced with the opportunity to explain their position on gays in scouting, or to make their case for why the Boy Scouts and the good deeds they do are worthy of support even despite their antigay positions, the Boy Scouts just didn't show up, depriving themselves and the people of Montpelier of a chance to debate the issues.

By the way, and to show their public spirit, the Boy Scouts also won't be volunteering to clean up the site, which they've been doing for years

The letters to the editor section has been filled with criticism of the Council, and particularly Hollar and Guerlain, with letter writers tossing around terms like “bullying” and questioning whether the next step is to interrogate the hot dog vendor on “whether he believes in Jesus as his savior or Allah and Mohammed as his choice for spiritual guidance“.

Even my friend John Walters, one of the more astute observers of the Vermont political scene, seems to be missing the key point on this. Here's what he says at his new blog, thevpo.org, explaining that discriminating against gays in 2014 is not exactly like buying Krugerrands during the height of apartheid:

 Since then, I’ve realized that while Guerlain and like-minded Councilors were being petty and small-minded, so were the local Scouts.

I disagree. I think Thierry Guerlain had it exactly right:

 “I hope that we don’t approve (the vendor requests), and I hope that it makes national press, and I hope that the message gets to Washington that we said no,” said Guerlain. “We’re not going to let a group that openly discriminates against gays sell water at our parade. … It’s difficult, it’s uncomfortable, but I think it’s our chance to do the right thing.”

 This is not a matter of raising highfalutin' principles over petty disputes. The speed with which marriage equality and social disapproval of discrimination against gays and lesbians have spread throughout our society has been inspirational. You can't just say that the Boy Scouts' discriminatory practices should be overlooked because of the other good they do, or because their brand of discrimination isn't as bad as other types of discrimination we have struggled, and continue to struggle, to overcome.

We're Vermont. We were the first state to outlaw slavery, and we actually did divest from South Africa back in 1986. We have led the nation in gay rights, and we don't have to accept discrimination just to get volunteers to clean up after our parade.

John Hollar, Thierry Guerlain, and the council members who voted with them got it right.  


15 thoughts on “On NOT Defending the Indefensible

  1. While I’m sorry for the scouts who are not to blame, there have to be consequences for the decisions, policies and bigotry of the adults running the show.  

  2. It’s important simply because the Scouts are such an American institution…so there is nothing petty about calling them out for institutional bigotry.  

    It’s not so different from the popular assumption that local Chambers of Commerce are just a bunch of nice folks who get together and slap each other on the back over cocktail sausages.  

    I had another issue with the Boy Scouts’ fundraiser, though:  I don’t think selling water in individual water bottles is a great message from an organization that one would presume places a great deal of emphasis on nature and the environment.

  3. … so my astuteness ends when I disagree with you?

    My point is not that the BSA’s policies are defensible or acceptable. It’s that this is a pretty damn trivial place to make a stand. And, although I may be a minority of one in these quarters, I still believe so.  

  4. …BSA’s stand on Gays.  So why shouldn’t we here in Vermont take a stand against it, by whatever way we can send our message.  This is one of the few good political things the Montpelier City Council has done in years.  Guerlain should be praised, not accused of being ‘petty’. There’s nothing ‘petty’ about open, or even ‘secret’ discrimination against Gays, Women, Blacks, Hispanics, and others, including the ‘politically incorrect’.  WalMart discriminates against unions and workers’ rights.  Liberals squawk.  Blacks are targted by police through racial profiling.  Ditto.  Thr BSA position on Gays says that Gays are not All-American boys, and should not be allowed to participate in what is ‘offered’ to other American boys.

    It’s a BIG ISSUE.  The Montpelier City Council did the right thing.  

  5. The Council Member who first spoke seems to have only done so to oppose placing the Scouts’ vending permit on the “consent agenda.”

    As I understand it, “consent agenda” items carry a kind of special cache in that they are presumed to pass without discussion.  Such a designation is a bit of a reach in the interests of the local branch of an organization

    that has so recently been in the news for its intolerance agenda.  It would suggest a kind of solidarity of the City with the parent organization’s public positions which the Council understandably is loathe to give.

    If the Scouts had been willing to forgo that “bulletproof” position and join the general queue for a permit, there would have been an opportunity for discussion, at which time both “sides” could have been heard.  If the position of the local Scouts was to distance themselves from that particularly odious stance of the parent organization, or even to say why they felt it wasn’t relevant to the permit in question,  I am reasonably certain that everyone would have been more than willing to grant a one time permit  

  6. at all the poutrage & negative responses to the BSA & the rejection of the standing offer to clean up after what I’ve heard is typically 20,000 — no small task — for the privilige of selling bottled water. I see the parade was  rained upon, irony is not missed. So for the most part cancelled except for some determined efforts by random groups.

    If it is the policy of Montpelier to deny vendor permits to groups that discriminate hopefully they will conduct a witchhunt,er, thorough investigation & complete vetting of all vendors & of course the company in the future who the city  now must pay for this massive cleanup. Hopefully Mr Guerlain & the fine folks who agree with his asinine behavior will be spearheading the effort by rolling up their sleeves & pouring on the elbow grease in future parades & these heroic efforts will make it into national news. I have a funny feeling this will not happen. Bullies do not generally bow to serving others as the BSA and other do-gooders selflessly give of their time & efforts to serve their communities.

    The BSA leader did the right thing & I applaud him. It’s called ‘taking the high road’ & the way of peace. I turn the other cheek routinely and  have given up jobs, careers, marriages including alimony, child support & friendships to avoid lengthy bitterly bruising battles to protect my sanity, family & friends. The scoutmaster was protecting his scouts from being subjected to the bullying & hatred of a different kind of bigot. Mr Guerlains accusation of  BSA teaching the scouts spite is laughable & childish. He was beaten at his own game.

    Guerlain stated that “all politics is local” and said he hoped Montpelier would make national news with a position not to allow any group that discriminates to operate with the city’s stamp of approval


    Read more: http://www.city-data.com/forum…    

    Aha. The true motives now become clear & likely part of the reason the BSA leader declined his “invitation” to beg to clean their streets to sell water as it was imo intended to be turned into a smackdown & bullying of BSA, huge dogpile & circus solely to suit Mr Guerlains fancy & salve conscience re his own failure to accept those who hold differing opinions & values. Will church groups who request vendor permits or other services of the city undergo a thorough investigation? Being faith-based some likely have similar bans on youth & other church leadership.

    “That they are part of an organization that takes that stance … and they are free to take that stance, but there are certain consequences,” he said.

    You tell ’em Mr G! Yes, they will be shamed, forbidden & banished from mopping the streets of our hallowed capitol. Reminiscent of SNL’s ‘Medievel Judge’.


    The ban on “open or avowed” homosexual adults from membership remains in effect … Leadership positions and membership in the Learning for Life programs are open to youth and adults without restriction based on gender, sexual orientation, atheism or agnosticism.[12][13] The controversial policies which restrict membership apply only to the Scouting programs.

    So, what ‘discriminitory practices’? It should also be noted BSA has a faith-based component. So why aren’t faith-based groups being treated thusly, or will they be in the future? Aside from welcoming openly gay youth & gay scout leaders who are not “open & avowed”, BSA welcomes all faiths, even the ones I’ve never heard of as faith is a part of scouting.


    Why? Perhaps b/c they wish to keep it about scouting & and its related goals & objectives & do not want it to turn into another agenda-laden group with its own goals & related objectives brought to the forefront & becoming front & center, hijacking its mission, coopting it then using the org as a platform for their message rather than following the original mission. What’s wrong with that? There are good & bad ppl in all walks of life & this is true of gays also. There are pervs who are both hetero & homosexual who primarily prey upon youth. Doy! Concerned parents would pull their kids & it could end scouting & BSA if the believed a threat existed in the organization.  


    Gays are also free to start their own private scouting group & operate it as they see fit, sort of like the blogosphere.

    We all know that anyone has a right to start a blog, however for other groups to infiltrate and overtake it then use it as a platform and in the case of GMD for things that run contrary to  the Dem/Prog liberal mantra, worldview & ethos on an ongoing basis would not be accepted nor should it be. Those who wish to express other opinions which veer sharply from the values, clearly stated mission & political views are free to start their own blog. Is this ‘discrimination’? Yes, we all discriminate & generally associate with others who share our views & lampoon & lambast those we disagree with but it is hypocritical imo to villify others who do the same. Personally, I choose to  live & let live, respect the rights of those & disagree with, however no one is going to tell me how to do it as it is simply another form of oppression, subjugation & tyrrany.

    Bring it on, call me a bigot, I’m currently awash with benzos.

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