SOUTH TAMPA — A decision to allow openly gay boys in Scouts rippled down to the area's oldest troop with an unintended lesson.
Troop 4 has met at a church by the base of the Davis Islands bridge for the past 60 years. But after the Boy Scouts of America changed its century-old policy, the troop was told by the church that it must leave. Some 70 percent of troops nationally are sponsored by churches, and some, like Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church, pulled sponsorships following the change. Holy Trinity said the Scouts' policy goes against God's Scripture.
The boys were very disappointed, said Brian FitzGerald, a former scoutmaster with the troop. "We were very much in favor of the BSA's decision. It was just unfortunate that (the church) didn't see it the same way."
In the months following the news of the ouster, other area churches called troop leaders to offer meeting space. A parent committee visited eight churches and chose Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, next to Plant High School.
"That was a good step for our healing process, to have a big community step up," said Tim Glisson, an assistant scoutmaster. Troop 4 has 67 Boy Scouts and 82 Cub Scouts. They lost no members due to the policy change, Glisson said.
At a troop meeting this week, the boys discussed the new site, which has a movie room and a game room, calling it a really good fit.
The meeting was one of the last in the Scout Hut, which the troop built in 1963 in the old church parking lot. The boys sat on wooden benches while planning camping trips and Eagle Service projects in the block structure lined with knotty pine walls and ceilings, like generations before them.
Animal skulls and bottles holding dead snakes hang on walls mixed in with the Scouts' oath, law and motto and plaques listing former Scouts. The troop was chartered in 1916, six years after the Scouts began. In 1922, the Scouts started meeting in the attic of the church, then known as First Christian.
The troop plans to move out on Dec. 14, stripping everything including the knotty pine, but leaving the building as the property of Holy Trinity. The troop has until Jan. 1, when the policy goes into effect.
A website, friendsof4.com, was created to raise money to build a new hut.
Garrett Brooks, 9, joined Troop 4 in first grade and said he is "very glad" for the Scouts' policy change because he has gay friends.
"I feel like (the church members) have their own idea about gay people, but I believe they should be allowed to do anything anybody else can do," Garrett said.
At the same time, he respected the church's decision.
"It's the way that they think and I'm not going to destroy their freedom to think," he said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.