With the donning of rainbow neckerchiefs, the world's first gay and lesbian scout troop became official last night.
Two women and four men dressed in khaki shirts adorned with a Canadian flag proudly formed Rover Troop 129 of Scouts Canada. Rovers are the senior level in scouting, for ages 18 to 26.
"History is being made here tonight," said Rev. Mary Joseph, of Christos Metropolitan Community Church, who presided over the ceremony.
Controversy has swirled around the troop since it was announced last December. Openly gay people are still officially banned in U.S. scouting.
"All you have to do is say I'm a member of the 129th and all those buzzers go off," Ms. Joseph said. "All I have to say to Scouts Canada is it's okay; it's okay."
"Officially we're the first in the world. We know there are many that are unofficial," troop leader Bonte Minnema said.
"If Scouts Canada was surprised when we suggested it, it didn't show. Everyone has been very supportive," Mr. Minnema said.
Toronto's troop has stirred controversy in the United States, where scouts and leaders in several states have been thrown out of troops because they are gay.
When the new troop was announced, U.S. fundamentalist preacher Rev. Fred Phelps threatened to come to Toronto to burn a Canadian flag outside Scouts Canada's headquarters. Mr. Phelps never came, but a demonstration was staged in support of the gay troop. Courts in several U.S. states have ruled that because the Boy Scouts of America is a private club, it is not covered by civil-rights laws. Scouting in the United States bans gays, agnostics and atheists.
A New Jersey man's appeal of being banned as a scout leader because he was gay is expected to be ruled on by the the U.S. Supreme Court by the end of this month.
The ruling is expected to determine whether gay troops can form in the United States.
"I came from a homophobic small town. We knew we needed to organize an alternative," said Peter, who asked that his last name not be used. "We decided if we did everything by the book, there was no way they could say 'no.' "
"We are saying you can be gay in scouting, you just have to honest about it. I imagine it must be good for Scouts Canada," Peter said.
The new gay troop is allowed to wear all the badges of Scouts Canada.
All scouting programs in Canada are co-ed. The Scouts have said they are considering another gay-friendly group in Toronto in the Venturers age group, for 14- to 17-year-olds.
Beaver groups, the first level of scouting, are also being planned for children of homosexual and lesbian parents.
Sara Evans, who joined the Rover group along with her partner Elena, who declined to give her last name, said the troop plans to march in next weekend's Gay Pride parade in Toronto. With them will be their daughter, Damiyn, who will be 5 next year.
"If you ask why we need a special group, we need a place where we can be affirmed and accepted," said Peter.
"I want to say 'I am who I am'."