• Dale, James
  • College/Year: RC '93
  • Links to Oral History Sessions: Dale, James (January 14, 2020)


James Dale was born in 1970 in Oceanside, New York. After spending his early years on Long Island, his family moved to Middletown, New Jersey when he was five, and he grew up there. He attended public schools in Middletown and then went to high school at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) in Sandy Hook. 

During his youth, he participated in sports, church activities and the Boy Scouts. In the interview, he discusses the mentorship of Norman Powell, the Scoutmaster of Troop 128, earning his Eagle Scout badge in Troop 73, and his involvement in the Order of the Arrow, the Boy Scouts honor society. 

In 1988, Dale started at Cook College and then transferred to Rutgers College, double majoring in sociology and communications and minoring in theater arts. He became involved in the concert committees at Cook and Rutgers College, as well as student government and several campus organizations. While chairing the concert committee his senior year, he helped plan Deinerfest with the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining. 

In the oral history, he explores coming out as a sophomore at Rutgers. As co-president of the Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance (RULGA), he worked to expand the group's visibility and presence beyond the College Avenue Campus. He credits the mentorship of Jim Anderson and Cheryl Clarke, co-advisors of RULGA. Dale organized events and speakers for National Coming Out Day, attended meetings of ACT UP in New York City, and spoke on a panel at the New Jersey Lesbian Gay Coalition Conference. He and others sought to raise political awareness about LGBTQ issues on campus through posters, messaging, wheatpasting and media exposure. 

In July 1990, Dale spoke at a Rutgers School of Social Work conference on the health needs of LGBTQ teenagers. The Star-Ledger then ran a photograph and story about Dale. A week later, Dale received a letter from James W. Kay, the Monmouth Council Executive, revoking his membership in the Boy Scouts. A subsequent letter from the Boy Scouts stated: "Avowed homosexuals are not permitted in the Boy Scouts of America." (Read more)

Dale remembers of being expelled by the Boy Scouts, "Had I just been made to feel unwelcome, I would have left the Boy Scouts. I wouldn’t have stayed for the point of just staying. I think it was the homophobia of writing in a letter and saying this is what they’re all about. In life, there are always places we don’t feel comfortable, whether at a club or sitting at a table with people in a dining hall at school. So, you don’t go there. The fact that it was a policy that I never knew about wasn’t something I was going to walk away from." In July 1992, Dale filed suit against the Boy Scouts of America and the Monmouth Council in Superior Court, claiming that the Boy Scouts had violated the Law Against Discrimination and common law by revoking his membership based on sexual orientation. 

Represented by Lambda Legal Defense, the case began when Dale was still an undergraduate and proceeded through the court system over next ten years. During that time, Dale served as a spokesperson for his own cause and made frequent media appearances. His attorney was Evan Wolfson, a civil rights lawyer who was one of the principal strategists of the campaign to achieve marriage equality. 

Dale's oral history details his journey through the court system. In 1995, the New Jersey Superior Court’s Chancery Division ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts. The New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division reversed the decision of the lower court in 1998. The case went to the New Jersey Supreme Court. On August 4, 1999, in the case James Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, and Monmouth Council, Boy Scouts of America, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Appellate Division, ruling that the Boy Scouts of America is a place of public accommodation and thus is subject to the provisions of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and that application of the Law Against Discrimination to the Boy Scouts does not infringe on its First Amendment rights. 

In January 2000, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, decided on June 28, 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts, that “applying New Jersey’s public accommodations law to require the Boy Scouts to admit Dale violates the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment right of expressive association.” Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote and delivered the 5-4 decision. Dale delves into his experiences witnessing the case argued before the Supreme Court. He reflects on hearing about the decision in 2000 and the ramifications of the ruling since then. 

After graduating from Rutgers in 1993, he worked at an AIDS organization. For seven years, he worked at a publishing company that produced POZ, a magazine about HIV and AIDS. He then went into advertising. More recently, he has worked in marketing/communications at an elder care facility. He has done writing and speaking surrounding LGBTQ advocacy, self-empowerment, and his own legal battle with the Boy Scouts.

The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2021-2022 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.