Scouts considering retreat from no-gays policy

Boys Scouts of America paraphernalia, including a uniform, patches and a handbook, are seen in this undated file photo.
January 28, 2013 8:18:17 PM PST
The Boys Scouts of America is considering a dramatic retreat from its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members.

Under the change now being discussed, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue - either maintaining an exclusion of gays or opening up their membership.

Monday's announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the policy - including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

Under the proposed change, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith, "the Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents."

The Boys Scouts, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists. Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and that the BSA continued to view "Duty to God" as one of its basic principles.

"Hopefully this will kind of spark change," said James Miller, a gay male and former boy scout. "I was in there until I was 14."

Miller fights for the rights of others at the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Center of Raleigh.

When he heard that Boys Scouts of America is considering changing its policy and including gay members, Miller was more than pleased.

"It was an important step for me personally," said Miller. "This does resonate very well with me. Finally, people are coming to grips with this and understanding that this is an important move by this organization."

BSA spokespersons say the announcement to end its 100-year old ban on gay leaders and members came after pressure from activists across the country. No decision is written in stone just yet, but the group has said that while it may make the change, "the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs."

That means it would leave individual Boy Scout organizations to decide for them what they will or won't allow.  That's something Miller says he's afraid will hinder the movement.

"Unfortunately, if it is left up to individual camps, we might not see the movement we need to see in places that really need it," said Miller.

Even so Miller says, in a group with so much history and popularity, this is still a huge first step.

"I think the Boy Scouts are an incredible group that brings together people and I think this allows them to now be free to bring together all people," said Miller.

A Gallop poll showed that among people under 30, 60 percent believe gay adults should be able to serve as scout leaders, while less than 40 percent over 50 agree.

Some gay advocacy groups believe the loss of corporate sponsors had something to do with the possible change. There have been reports of companies threatening to pull funding due to the BSA's discrimination policy.

The Boy Scouts of America will discuss the topic next week.

Full statement from Boy Scouts of America:

"Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.

"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs."

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