The town of Takoma Park, where Bruce Williams is the first openly gay mayor in Maryland may not seem like the best home for Boy Scouts, whose national organization rejects openly gay Scout leaders.
Yet scouting thrives in Takoma Park, and the person perhaps most responsible is the Scoutmaster of Troop 33, Dave Lanar, who, in his day job, is the head of the malaria vaccine development project at Walter Reed Hospital.
We asked Dave how he is able to reconcile the Boy Scout attitude toward gays and to tell us about the values that scouting and Takoma Park share.
When people talk about Boys Scouts and Takoma Park in the same sentence, your name inevitably comes up. How did you first get involved?
My son Bobby joined scouts as a six year old and said he would only do it if I was the leader of our den. After six years as a Cub Scout Pack Master I moved up to the Troop and moved up to Troop 33, as Scout Master. It’s a big troop, ranging from 40 to 60 Scouts.
I’m guessing your were a Scout yourself as a boy.
Yes, my dad was an assistant scoutmaster. It wasn’t the popsicle-stick-building type of scout troop. We traveled all over the Southwest, to Zion, the Grand Canyon, amazing trips. I became an Eagle Scout and stuck with it through college. I take the same approach as a scout leader. Camping, hiking, cooking, chopping wood are most important to me.
How did the Supreme Court case which upheld the Boys Scouts’ right to exclude gay men from leadership, affect Trrop 33 ?
People in Takoma Park were – rightly, I believe —outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision. Nationally, the Boy Scouts are very conservative because Methodist congregations and the Church of Latter Day Saints practically require their youth to be involved in scouting, so these religiously affiliated troops have a larger voice. Troop 33 represents a minority view. We wrote a letter to the national organization, saying we will not discriminate because of a person’s sexual orientation. We’ve never heard a response. They just leave us alone. We’ve had boys in the troop with gay parents and boys who are transsexual. There’s nothing that says boys can’t be gay. I understand the need to be protective. We never leave boys alone with a leader, but it would be the same for a teenage girl.
Has scouting in Takoma become more diverse in recent years?
Our troop is pretty diverse, with about 20 percent from “minority” backgrounds. I think it would be a higher percentage, but not as many African American families or those from immigrant families have a history with scouting. Another issue is cost. Fortunately, our troop raises lots of money for boys who can’t afford things like camping fees at Assateague, or the cost of other outings.
Do you believe, as author Richard Louv has written, that kids are suffering from “nature deficit disorder”?
Yes, absolutely. We are one of very few troops that actually own a camp, Camp Schmitt, a 42-acre wooded site in West Virginia with a cabin, pond for canoeing and kayaking, archery range, and all the rest. It’s named after Waldo Schmidt from Takoma Park and has a very interesting history. [Check the archives for Diana Kohn’s column about scouts in Takoma.]
In terms of getting away, I don’t allow electronics in the car when we go on camping trips, and that’s hard for kids. But I understand. I can’t wait myself to get back to my iPod!
You have a high percentage of boys who earn their Eagle badges. What’s your secret?
It’s not me. The kids stay with it because their parents get involved. We have an amazing wealth of talent in this area. Dr. Marian MacDorman, a CDC epidemiologist, is the merit badge coordinator for the troop. She’s tapped people like Carl Elefante, principal of a D. C. architecture firm, to help the boys with their architecture badge. And Bruce Edwards, who just returned from hiking from Mexico to Canada, will be helping boys with their hiking badge. I know enough about basic plumbing to teach the boys how to fix a toilet.
Why do you place a lot of emphasis on becoming an Eagle Scout?
I tell the boys, if you’re an Eagle Scout, it’s something you can be proud of your whole life. I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Peter Agre, who won the Noble Prize in chemistry, a fellow Eagle Scout, about what it means to him. He said he considers it when reviewing candidates for admissions to John Hopkins. If they identify themselves as an Eagle Scout, he’ll take a second look at their application. It doesn’t guarantee success in life, but it says you’ve accomplished something significant.
What are some of the projects?
This year many boys have gone beyond what is required. I sit on the Eagle Scout Board of Review nationally, so I have a broad perspective. One built an outdoor classroom for Takoma Middle School. Another built a bridge over a marshy area that enables kids to walk to school. [See profiles of these Eagles & their projects, on the next page]. They didn’t just do the physical work, though. They took the project from idea stage through fundraising to completion.
What else do you think distinguishes Troop 33?
We are community-minded. Our pancake supper is an example. We ask the boys to reach out to neighbors. We role-play how to sell tickets, how to provide goodservice at the supper, how to be perfect gentlemen, how to interact with guests and parent helpers. I also try to involve local businesses in many ways. For example, the guys at Murray’s Auto teach the guys about car repair so they can get an automotive merit badge.
For more information about Troop 33, visit their website: