Child Molester Leads 'Gays' in Scout Protest

By David M. Bresnahan
August 24, 2000

A coalition of groups protesting Boy Scouts of America's policy of not accepting homosexual leaders and members chose a convicted child molester to lead it.

John Hemstreet -- an alcoholic, former Boy Scout leader, former priest and convicted child molester -- told WorldNetDaily he is an example of the type of person who should be permitted to be a Boy Scout leader. Indeed, he said he was a great scoutmaster.

President of the Toledo, Ohio, chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Scouting for All, Hemstreet organized a protest demonstration on Monday in front of the Erie Shores Boy Scouts of America Council.

About 25 protesters took part in the Toledo demonstration Monday morning. It was part of a national protest scheduled for 36 locations, although, as WorldNetDaily reported, many were attended by only a handful of protesters and some targeted locations had no protesters.

Hemstreet says the Boy Scouts of America should not prevent homosexuals from serving as leaders or members. He was not hesitant to admit his past problems and said it was appropriate for him to be a scoutmaster.

"The thing that I did seven years ago is a horrendous thing. I'm not denying that. Nor am I denying that I did it. I was arrested. I was arraigned. I did go to court. I was sentenced. I served my time and I am off probation," explained Hemstreet.

Hemstreet said he considers the activist work he is doing to be a form of community service to "give back" for the crimes he committed. He said he has paid his debt to society and he is now trying to do something good.

Although he was never a Boy Scout as a youth, Hemstreet served as a scoutmaster and a Sea Scout Skipper for various troops between 1964 and 1987 while he was a priest in the northwestern part of Ohio. He was awarded the Silver Beaver award for his years of service -- the highest award BSA gives to adults.

Hemstreet admits to being a homosexual and a child molester. In 1992, he confessed to molesting a 10-year-old boy.

"I have done a terrible, horrible disservice to a boy. I have done a disservice to my community, and I have a moral and civil obligation to try to give something back to my community. PFLAG is one of the things I have elected to do -- to do community service," explained Hemstreet.

He said that while he was a priest and a scoutmaster he did not make his homosexuality public, and he says he did not molest Boy Scouts.

"At that time I was mainly in denial, and I certainly wasn't coming out," said Hemstreet.

He did not respond to a question regarding whether homosexual men are more likely to be child molesters than heterosexual men. Nor did he directly answer whether BSA should exclude homosexuals in an effort to reduce the risk of molestation to scouts.

He did admit that the background of potential scout leaders should be checked, but he said a man should not be prevented from serving just because he admits that he is a homosexual.

"My feeling at this particular point is that scouting is a valuable organization. It has done great things and has taken many young men and turned them into self-sufficient, worthwhile and contributing members of adult society. I think an organization, like the scouts, need to be concerned with a person for who they are as a person, not what they might be. I don't think one's individual sexuality, whether real or perceived, has any effect on the worth of a person," said Hemstreet.

"The crime that I committed was committed after I, kind of, retired from the active priesthood. It was not related to scouting at all -- I was drunker than a skunk. Not that that is any excuse. I was in a very heavy part of my drinking career at that time, but that is no excuse," admitted Hemstreet.

Hemstreet said he presented Toledo BSA officials with a petition asking them to "buck the national council" and issue a statement that their local council will abide by a non-discrimination policy.

He said that he did not personally speak to any BSA officials, but that he received a message informing him that the local scout executive was personally in favor of the policy banning homosexuals. Hemstreet said he had little hope the local council will go against the national policy.

Hemstreet also presented a petition to the local United Way, a major source of donations to local Boy Scout programs. Although many local United Way chapters have removed the Boy Scouts from the list of organizations to which they donate, the Toledo chapter conveyed a message to Hemstreet that the Boy Scouts will continue to receive donations there.

"The head of the United Way here in Toledo said their only concern was the organizations they fund do not break any laws. The Boy Scouts have broken no national, state or local law. Therefore I guess that's as far as that's going to go," said Hemstreet.

Hemstreet and his group are also asking individual troops to establish their own non-discrimination policy and to so inform the local and national councils. So far, he said, no troops have done so. Hemstreet admitted he does not know whether a troop would lose its charter if it acted on his request.

Despite his failure to obtain support from the local BSA council, the United Way or from local troops, Hemstreet said he considered his protest to be a success because the 25 protesters who showed up were more than he expected.

He also doesn't think his past should reflect on the efforts of his group -- or his cause.

"Whether it's going to have any effect on the results of the rally, I don't know, nor do I know what my future in PFLAG is," he said. The protest was sponsored by Scouting for All, PFLAG and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, he said, and had an "informal" sponsorship from the American Civil Liberties Union.

PFLAG has issued a policy statement that says, in part: "Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), an organization dedicated to the support of families, deplores the Boy Scouts of America's practice of excluding gay youth, leaders and volunteers from its program and services. We condemn any policy that would not allow gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered individuals to fully participate at all levels in any activity within scouting."


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