The Boy Scouts of America have gotten under Steve Wagenhoffer's skin. He's the gay father of two sons, both enrolled in Portland public schools. Over the past year, he's watched as the schools have given the organization free reign to recruit young charges--in spite of the organization's anti-gay policies.
Wagenhoffer has complained to just about everyone under the sun, but those requests for help have been brushed off. Finally, a few weeks ago, he filed a formal complaint with the school board.
Over the past decade, even as gay rights have moved further into the mainstream, the Scouts have adamantly asserted that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the value system they instill in young people.
Though Portland School Board policies dictate that allowing brochures and materials "with a partisan or advocacy program on political, religious or social issues" may not be distributed in the schools by non-school groups, the Boy Scout's recruitment pamphlets seem to be exempt.
Before filing the compliant, Wagenhoffer asked the school's principal, Lynn Blevens, to remove Scout material from the school. Blevens refused, saying the school board had approved the brochures.
Wagenhoffer then petitioned Bridger's P.T.A., but the P.T.A. president flatly refused to include the issue in their recent meetings' agendas. Wagenhoffer even sent a letter to council member Randy Leonard pleading for help. In turn, Leonard passed the buck and forwarded the complaint to Mayor Vera Katz, who responded with a letter expressing concern, but said that the matter should be handled by the school board.
Over the past decade, several major school boards have stood up to the Scouts. Three years ago, after the Scouts refused to accept gay den leaders, the New York City school board banned recruiters from all their institutions. But Portland has shrunk from any similar responsibility.
Seven years ago the Portland chapter of the ACLU filed a discrimination suit against local public schools seeking to prohibit Scouts' recruitment on campus. The suit was filed on behalf of Nancy Powell and her son Remington. An atheist family, the Powells were upset after Harvey Scott Elementary School not only allowed a Scout recruiter on campus during lunch hour, but also had teachers assist in stapling Scout arm bands with contact information onto children's wrists. When Remington, then a first grader, asked his mother about the group, he learned he wouldn't be able to join without taking an oath to "do his duty to God." The suit is now pending before the Oregon Supreme Court.
In the most recent case, the school board has responded to Wagenhoffer's complaint with an assurance that they will review his complaint at the next regularly scheduled meeting. But Wagenhoffer says the rigorous and bureaucratic filing procedures seem like a way to weed out people who didn't have the time or energy to stick with complaints. Even so, Wagenhoffer isn't going to back down.