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Lyons: Does Crystal Lake have a big enough tent?

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Crystal Lake really is a charming town with fantastic schools, a thriving downtown – a welcoming hamlet in which to live or work.

Unless, of course, you’re a gay person who happens to row crew. Or a gay Boy Scout. A gay Boy Scout who rows crew into town might want to keep rowing toward more tolerant waters.

There’s no merit badge for staying where you’re not wanted, and apparently the still waters of the namesake lake run deep.

This is hyperbole, of course, but for the second time in a decade, Crystal Lake has acquired national recognition for its intolerance toward gay people. I so want to believe this reputation is unfair, but someone help a brother out.

It wasn’t embarrassing enough in 2006, when the Crystal Lake Park Board initially rejected a proposal to hold a rowing competition for the Gay Games held in Chicago amid a ludicrous frenzy of paranoia over AIDS and delusions about acts of public indecency.

This was not Crystal Lake’s finest hour. Eventually, enough of the town came to its senses. The Park Board ultimately approved the request, as did the Crystal Lake Council.

The Gay Games rowing event was held without incident. The waters of the lake itself remain asexual, although to be honest, I never asked and the lake won’t tell.

Mayor Aaron Shepley among others spoke for most Crystal Lake residents who were embarrassed by the national press coverage.

“It’s not the controversy we want that puts Crystal Lake on the map,” he told the Northwest Herald in March 2006. “Crystal Lake is not a community that discriminates. We’re not a community of people that are closed-minded.”

Fast-forward roughly seven years, when Crystal Lake is thrust into national headlines again. The target wasn’t gay rowers this time. The target was a Boy Scout troop being tied into a timber hitch knot.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church’s pastor, the Rev. Brian Grady, went rogue and decided to sever ties with Blackhawk Area Council Troop 550 – the parish’s troop in the Boy Scouts of America.

The Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is no secret, but even the church itself has not gone as far as Grady with regard to its relationship with the Boy Scouts, who reversed policy and now allow openly gay Scouts. The policy change essentially puts scouting in line with virtually every youth organization that offers no badges for heterosexuality.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Edward Martin, chairman of the church’s National Committee on Scouting, has said the Scouts policy change “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching” and that churches should continue supporting scouting.

Why the peaceful community of Crystal Lake continues to be a key battleground for these “Culture Wars” that no one wins is a depressing question that I can’t answer.

But just as the reasonable minds of Crystal Lake overcame the unfortunate Gay Games controversy, the reasonable minds of Crystal Lake will get the town past this latest embarrassment.

Fortunately, plenty of well-wishers in town have offered new places for Troop 550 to pitch its tent.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at kelyons@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH. 

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