Gay-rights activist Harriet Lessy discusses the decision to allow the Boy Scouts to retain the use of city property.
Last summer, a federal judge ruled that Philadelphia could not evict the Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America from their Logan Square headquarters—a building they’ve occupied for nearly a century—despite long-standing BSA policies against homosexuals that the city argued violated Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination laws. In November, both sides agreed to a settlement to end the seven-year battle: The city would sell the building to the Scouts for $500,000 (far less than its estimated worth), and the Scouts would forgive the city nearly $1 million in legal fees. But Philly’s LGBT community, infuriated by a deal they say rewards the Scouts for their anti-gay position, is fighting the proposed settlement, which is still pending City Council approval. PW spoke with Harriet Lessy, a local public-relations executive and gay-rights activist who’s facilitating the Equality Forum panel “The Boy Scouts: Publicly Subsidized Discrimination.”
What’s the message you hope to get across with this panel discussion?
It’s about creating awareness of the situation. People need to understand that what the city is doing by selling the building to [the Boy Scouts] is subsidizing discrimination. They’re allowing the Boy Scouts to buy a building that is public property that we, the taxpayers, own, and they’re selling it under market value. The point of the panel really is—whether it’s the situation with the Boy Scouts or anything else—should we be enforcing discrimination as taxpayers? Not everyone understands the fight. It’s an unpopular decision and it’s an unfair decision. We see discrimination every day and we can’t allow it.
Is it true that the city may have grounds for an appeal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision [in another case] regarding subsidized discrimination that came down after this verdict, but instead they’ve chosen to settle?
That’s right. The city could appeal, that’s what they should be doing. [But] sometimes people dig a hole in the sand and just don’t want to rethink something. It’s easier. And in all honesty, nobody wants to fight the Boy Scouts. Let’s point out that it’s vote time. We’re coming up for elections, Nutter has not been particularly popular.
So you believe Nutter’s courting voters who support the Boy Scouts’ position instead of reaching out to LGBT voters?
It sure looks that way.
The person you should be asking that question isn’t me, it’s Michael Nutter. I mean, the whole thing is just outrageous in today’s world. And for us as a city, which has an anti-discrimination bill on its books, to allow this to happen is just bizarre.
What would you like to see happen with the building?
It’s public property, so it should go for sale to the highest bidder. Not to an organization that’s paying a very under-the-market price for a very valuable piece of real estate that is then going to be allowed to discriminate. I can assure you we’re going to talk about all options and opportunities [during the panel]. The city could put it up for public bid. Turn it over to a nonprofit organization. Probably the easiest thing that could happen in this is that the Boy Scouts change their discrimination policy and put an end to all of this. We’re taking a stand against anyone who discriminates. The Boy Scouts happen to believe, for whatever reason, that discrimination is appropriate. Everything would change and everything would be different if the Boy Scouts would change their national policy against discrimination. If someone from the Boy Scouts would stand up at this forum and say that’s going to happen, it would be a very short forum. We’d spend the whole time clapping.
Mayor Nutter has been invited to participate in the panel, correct?
Yes, he has. I haven’t heard if he’s going to come or not. I’d like him to explain his position. I understand that he cannot change the Boy Scouts’ policy, but he certainly can change how Philadelphia deals with this situation.
Panel: Sat., April 30, 3:30pm. Free. Temple University, 1515 Market St. equalityforum.com