Diaz seeks 'dialogue' with Boy Scouts The solicitor says his own homosexuality didn't enter into the city's effort to force the local chapter to denounce antigay bias.

Posted: July 27, 2006

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said a recent push to force the Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts Council to denounce the national organization's antigay policy had nothing to do with his own homosexuality.

"My own sexuality, my own sexual orientation, has never been hidden and never played into my decision," Diaz said in an interview yesterday with The Inquirer. "It has, perhaps, made me more sensitive to the issues."

Diaz said he sent another letter yesterday morning seeking a meeting with William T. Dwyer III, council chief executive officer and president. Diaz, the city's first openly gay solicitor and a former Cub Scout, said he hoped to have a "direct dialogue" with the council.

"I'm trying to figure out what their policy means. Do they intend to discriminate against openly gay Boy Scouts?" he said.

Last week, the Street administration threatened the scouts with eviction from the stately structure at 22d and Winter Streets they have occupied rent-free since 1928 unless they agreed to disavow discrimination against gays - or pay a fair-market rent.

The national organization, Boy Scouts of America, has a strict policy forbidding homosexuals from being scouts or leaders. The policy was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 and affirmed by the national council in 2002.

The debate over the national policy in Philadelphia began in 2003 when the local council voted to adopt a nondiscrimination policy regarding homosexuals - but then, weeks later, ousted an 18-year-old South Philadelphia scout who publicly acknowledged he was gay.

Then-City Solicitor Nelson Diaz determined that the scouts' policy of banning gays violated the city's fair-practices ordinance. That law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, race, color or other classifications.

In 2005, the council, which serves 87,000 members in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties, agreed to adopt an anti-discrimination policy in compliance with the City Charter, according to a letter Romulo Diaz wrote to the council at the time. But that policy was "ambiguous," Diaz said, and did not address homosexuality directly.

Diaz said his office reached out repeatedly for clarification on whether the scouts intended to stop discriminating against gays. He said the council refused to meet.

"This is an issue that's been in play now for the tenure of three city solicitors," he said.

Larry Ceisler, a spokesman for the council, said the scouts had declined to go to a meeting at a private law firm where gay and lesbian activists would have been present.

Responding to Diaz's letter of yesterday, Ceisler said the council would meet with the city solicitor, but only in an official capacity and in a city office.

Diaz said the Street administration had made its decision to move toward eviction after a "very deliberative process."

"Frankly, from my perspective, I'm certainly supportive of it," Diaz said. "I believe it's the right thing to do from a legal and policy perspective.

"I think I looked at this from a very balanced perspective," he added.

Contact staff writer Tina Moore at 215-854-2664 or tmoore@phillynews.com.

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