Scout Official Is Fired After Saying He Is Gay
Scouts’ honor compelled Leonard Lanzi, the top Boy Scout official in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, to defend the group’s ban on homosexuals. But Lanzi was also obliged by Scouts’ principles to tell the truth.
So last month, when speaking against a Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors proposal to cut support to the Scouts because the group excludes gays, he made a startling disclosure: “I am gay.”
“A Scout has to have integrity,” Lanzi said. “And I could not speak up here without feeling hypocritical.” He then embraced the 12 attributes of a Scout: “I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”
And now he is fired.
Lanzi, the executive director of the Los Padres Council of the Boy Scouts of America, was suspended shortly after revealing his sexual orientation at the Oct. 17 supervisors’ meeting, and a week later was fired, said Scott Ames, Lanzi’s attorney.
Lanzi’s full-time position overseeing 249 Scout units in the Central Coast is controlled by the local board.
Lanzi received a letter on Oct. 26 from Scout officials informing him that he was stripped of his commission and therefore “cannot continue as Scout executive,” said Alan Courtney, a board member from Solvang.
Ames said Lanzi plans to file a civil rights lawsuit.
Community leaders were quick to sympathize with Lanzi, and at least one member of the Scouts’ executive board has resigned in protest.
“If he [Lanzi] were to run for mayor today, he would win hands down,” said Robert G. Hansen, president of the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara. Hansen, who runs a high-tech engineering company, said that although the Rotary takes no official position on the case, members recognized Lanzi’s dilemma with a standing ovation at a meeting.
“The Boy Scouts are the big loser in this,” Hansen said.
With the support, however, there also has been hostility. Courtney said Lanzi has gotten anti-gay hate calls.
The highly regarded Scout executive may be the most prominent casualty in the aftermath of a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude gays. The ruling has prompted many communities to confront an issue they had previously avoided.
After the court decision, Santa Barbara County’s Human Relations Commission came up with a proposal to end financial support for the Boy Scouts, citing local anti-discrimination laws. Though county supervisors have yet to vote on the measure, the civic debate over the matter has made Lanzi’s private life public.
“Some of us may have known or suspected Len was gay, but who cared? Everybody’s pretty tolerant; this is California,” said Dennis Peterson, a longtime volunteer and father of an Eagle Scout.
Peterson said he and some prominent Scout boosters are outraged by Lanzi’s firing. “It’s a tragedy. He bares his soul to help the organization and it comes back and bites him,” Peterson said.
The Santa Barbara property manager has resigned from the Scout board’s executive committee, just as he was set to head a $2-million fund-raising drive. “The strongest statement I can make is to say, ‘I quit,’ ” Peterson said, calling the Scouts’ policy on gays “morally wrong.”
Another board member, Karl Eberhard, said he expects to resign.
Eberhard, an architect, said he has stopped his pro bono work designing a shower building for a Scout camp. Eberhard said that before the Supreme Court decision and what happened to Lanzi, he had no qualms about Scouting, because its exclusion of gays “was rather convenient and easy to ignore. Now it’s right in our face.”
In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the Boy Scouts had a right to ban gays because opposition to homosexuality is part of the group’s “expressive message.”
The decision overturned a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that required a troop to readmit a longtime member and assistant scoutmaster whom the troop had dismissed after learning he was gay. James Dale was ejected after his picture appeared in a newspaper article about a gay student conference at Rutgers University, where he was co-president of the gay and lesbian students organization.
Even before the Supreme Court ruling, the Scouts’ ban on gays had prompted some local governments, school districts and corporations to curtail their support, either through donations or use of facilities. Chicago no longer lets the Boy Scouts use parks, city buildings and schools free of charge, and San Francisco public schools no longer sponsor Scouting programs during school hours.
Other actions include a civil rights lawsuit against the city of San Diego seeking an end to a $1-a-year lease of parkland to the Scouts, and Connecticut is considering whether to forbid the Boy Scouts the use of public campgrounds or buildings.
Santa Barbara County supervisors deferred action on the Boy Scout measure, which could affect the Scouts’ use of a county-owned meeting house. After hearing hours of rancorous testimony, the board returned the proposal to its staff for further review.
Lanzi’s dismissal, meanwhile, was swift and silent. It has not been announced, and Harvey Lynn, the Los Padres council’s president, said he would not comment on Lanzi’s case. Greg Shields, a national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, did not return several phone calls requesting an interview.
Reached by telephone, Lanzi declined to be interviewed for this story.
By firing Lanzi, the Scouts silenced an outspoken supporter. When he addressed the county supervisors last month, Lanzi said, “We’d love for all people to be in our organization as long as they have our beliefs. If they don’t have our beliefs, they don’t have to join.”
Lanzi appeared in a dark suit instead of the Scout uniform, and espoused a policy like the armed services’ “Don’t ask, don’t tell” practice. “I’m the person that has to enact the policy, and anything short of somebody coming in and saying, ‘Len, I’m going to go to the press and make a big deal out of it,’ I’m not going to do anything. If someone calls and says so-and-so is gay, I’m not going to do anything about it. I don’t care.”
After acknowledging he is gay, Lanzi nevertheless affirmed his loyalty to the organization. “I uphold the Boy Scouts’ policies because I agree with them,” he said.
Janet Stanley, executive director of Pacific Pride, a Santa Barbara gay and lesbian advocacy group and social services agency, called Lanzi’s defense of Scout policy to the end disappointing, but empathized with his plight. “I understand he was trying to save his job, and I can’t fault him for that, although I don’t agree with it,” she said.
Stanley said she had gotten to know Lanzi over the summer as they debated the Scouts’ policy and the county’s proposal regarding the group. Though at odds over Scout policy, the two had a few phone conversations during which Lanzi discussed his dilemma as a gay Scout official. “I’m not angry at Len, I’m angry at the Boy Scouts,” Stanley said.
Lanzi’s positions may have disappointed gay activists, but by revealing his sexual orientation he has confounded some of those who had stood with him as defenders of the Scouts’ gay ban. Brian Lindgren, a Santa Maria Scout volunteer who has testified in support of the Scouts’ right to exclude gays, said he isn’t sure Lanzi should have been fired. “He’s a swell guy,” Lindgren said.
Lanzi, 38, is now cut off from the only career he has known. Before he became executive director of the Los Padres council in 1997, he had worked for the Scouts in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego since 1987. Lanzi grew up in Warwick, R.I., where he was an Eagle Scout.
Lanzi quickly established himself as a community leader in Santa Barbara, becoming active in Rotary and United Way, friends said. Eberhard said Lanzi’s concern for youths in Scouting continued despite the treatment he has gotten. “When I talked to him, he was worrying about an unfinished grant proposal. He didn’t say a word about losing his job. He was worried that some kids might not be able to go to camp because he couldn’t go into the office to fill out some forms.
“That’s the bummer in this,” Eberhard said. As he and other volunteers break with the Scouts and Scout staffers like Lanzi are expelled, “the only people who really lose are the kids.”