Boy Scouts' Rent Skyrockets in Philadelphia to $200K Over Gay Ban

The Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy is turning out to be a pricey proposition for its Philadelphia chapter — one that will cost about $200,000 a year, to be exact.

The city has ordered the organization to pay a fair-market rent of $200,000 — $199,999 more than its current $1 annual rate — to maintain its longtime offices in a landmark Philadelphia building because of its refusal to allow openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders.

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. contends that Mayor John Street, City Council and the Fairmount Park Commission (which oversees historic properties) have been asking the Scouts for the past year to submit a clear-cut anti-discrimination policy, and they haven't done so. In order to comply with Philadelphia laws, he said, he has given the Scouts a choice: agree definitively in writing to stop discriminating, or pay a new rent at market value.

"They had been put on notice over the last year by the mayor, the City Council and the Fairmount Park Commission that they had a choice to make," Diaz said in a phone interview. "They need to provide evidence that they would not engage in discriminatory practices against gays as either Scout masters or Boy Scouts. .... They have either not responded or essentially played the victim."

The Boy Scouts' Philadelphia branch, called the Cradle of Liberty Council, argues that its hands are tied because of the national chapter's refusal to reverse its anti-gay policy — even though, it says, it tried to fight it a few years ago.

The city Scouts say they agreed on a compromise with the prior solicitor — which involved the adoption of a promise not to engage in "unlawful discrimination" similar to one the New York chapter has — and claims the current solicitor has an ulterior motive because he himself is openly gay.

"We adopted a non-discrimination policy in 2005 with the city's help, which is ironic now," said Cradle of Liberty spokesman Jeff Jubelirer. "Since that time, there's been no one challenging the policy, no reports of discrimination. Nothing has come to the public's attention. And yet the current solicitor thinks this language is not clear enough.

"It's been reported that the solicitor is openly homosexual — and who cares — but I wonder if it's something that he and members of the activist gay community want: to kick the Boy Scouts out of their building."

Diaz declined to answer questions about his sexual orientation, but said it was irrelevant because his job was to enforce what the city has voted and agreed on.

"I'm doing my job," he said. "I'm taking it on because I was directed by the mayor, City Council and the Fairmount Park Commission."

The Beaux Arts 1928-era building stands on land owned by the city, and Philadelphia officials say they can't legally rent taxpayer-owned property for such a low sum to a private group known to discriminate. The Boy Scouts have use of the entire historic building and its parking lot, according to Diaz.

"Wouldn't you expect the Cradle of Liberty Council to really set the example for what in 2007 we would expect in a modern civil society, to be inclusive and welcome everyone to their ranks?" the solicitor said.

The Cradle of Liberty Council has until Dec. 3 of this year to either accept the new $200,000 rent or vacate the building. They will have to start paying the spiked rent in order to avoid being evicted from Beaux Arts, located at 22nd and Winter streets, after May 31, 2008.

Jubelirer said that though the Boy Scouts of America won't allow openly gay members or leaders, there is something of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy within the organization.

"We know there are gay Scouts," he said. "Of course there are. We don't care. Nobody cares. We tried to change the policy. National wouldn't allow us. We're trying to do the right thing as all parties are concerned."

Diaz said such a philosophy is contradictory, and is still flat-out discrimination.

"You cannot welcome people when you say to them publicly, you're not welcome if you're gay, but privately you can come in," he said. "No one is going to feel welcome or want to apply. It's like (posting a job and saying), if you're a homosexual, don't apply here. That should enrage people."

The Girl Scouts of America — including the Philadelphia chapter — has no such anti-gay policy.

"The Girl Scouts of America do not discriminate," Diaz said. "They pay for the use of city facilities. Why wouldn't you expect the Boy Scouts of America to meet the standards of the Girl Scouts? There is no major non-profit that I'm aware of in Philadelphia that allows that kind of discrimination."

Scouting officials will ask the city solicitor for details on the appraisals that yielded the $200,000 figure, which Jubelirer called "shocking."

The higher rent money "would have to come from programs. That's 30 new Cub Scout packs, or 800 needy kids going to our summer camp," he said.

The city and the Scouts have been disputing the matter for years, but haven't been able to reach an agreement. Diaz contends that his office has sent numerous letters since the summer of 2006 informing the Scouts of the city's stance, but to no avail.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Scouts, as a private group, have a First Amendment right to bar gays from membership.

The Philadelphia branch adopted a nondiscrimination policy in 2003, but was ordered to revoke it by the National Council, which said local chapters cannot deviate from national rules barring participation by anyone who is openly gay.

Jubelirer said he isn't sure why the national Boy Scouts refuse to change the anti-homosexual policy.

"There's a long history, whether it be morals or what have you," he said. "It's just something they feel very strongly about."

The Cradle of Liberty Council serves about 64,000 scouts in Philadelphia and its suburbs in two nearby counties.

They've been at the Beaux Arts building since it went up in 1928.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.