The Scouting community is deeply divided on this issue.
The Scouts’ national spokesman Deron Smith said the policy toward gays has become “the most complex and challenging issue” facing the BSA at a time when it is struggling to stem a steady drop in membership.
“Ultimately we can’t anticipate how people will vote but we do know that the result will not match everyone’s personal preference,” Smith said
Both sides of this issue have been very vocal about their stance. Conservatives inside and outside of the Boy Scouts believe that by allowing openly gay scouts into their ranks, Scouting traditions will be undermined. And they are warning of mass defections if the policies are changed.
Gay rights supporters and Scout leaders from more liberal areas will not be happy unless policy changes are made to allow both gay youths and adults to participate.
This is the second time this year that The Boy Scouts of America have tried to settle this issue. In January, the organization proposed a measure that would have allowed each individual scouting troop to make their own policies on admitting gay scouts and/or adults into their unit. The BSA dropped that proposal when surveys showed strong opposition to the plan.
Over the past year, numerous groups on both sides of the issue have formed and made their presence known.
The group called Scouts for Equality has a petition of 1,815,304 signatures opposing the ban on openly gay scouts including 6,821 Eagle scouts. The group has been holding rallies across the country asking local leaders to vote for the inclusion of all scouts.
Elite Eagle scouts have been sending their Eagle badges back to the BSA in protest for months. To earn the Eagle badge, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, takes strong dedication to the organization. It takes on average 6 consistent years of work to earn the highest rank. It is one of the hardest things most 16 or 17 year olds will accomplish they wear the badge with pride. One Eagle Scout said that “they teach you in scouting to do a good turn daily. Returning my badge is standing up for others who want to be part of this organization, who want to grow into good men through scouting but aren’t allowed. Sending it (the Eagle Badge) back was my good turn for the day.”
Strong feelings also run deep on the other side. Family Research Council have their own online petition to keep the longstanding policy on homosexuality which to date has 30,361 signatures. The Stand with the Boy Scouts pledge states “this proposal is fraught with danger and sends the message that homosexuality is morally straight,’ something completely at odds with the historic convictions of the BSA. Parents should be able to entrust their sons to the organization with the confidence that they will not be exposed to inappropriate sexual topics such as homosexuality. The BSA should retain the current long-held and time-tested policy regarding homosexual leadership and membership.”
On May 5th the Family Research Council held a webcast rally to oppose any change in the policy. Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout himself, spoke to those attending via Skype.
“For pop culture to come in and try to tear that up because it just happens to be the flavor of the month, so to speak and to tear apart one of the great organizations that has served millions of young men…that is just not appropriate,” Perry said.
As with any emotionally charged issue, rumors and exaggerations have started to accompany the true concerns. OnMyHonor.net claims that the pending proposals will “require homosexuality” and an adult scout leader on the webcast claimed that if the youth policy were changed it “will open the door to boy-on-boy sexual contact, bullying and older Scouts being predators on younger scouts.”
The BSA’s national leadership has rejected such warnings as ill-founded. “The BSA makes no connection between the sexual abuse or victimization of a child and homosexuality,” a new background document says. “The BSA takes strong exception to this assertion.”
The BSA has also stated that sexual contact by any scout, be it gay or straight would be unacceptable.
Religious organizations tend to lend their support in favor of the ban and 70 percent of scouting units are sponsored by religious organizations. Scouting is the official youth program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Therefore a boy belonging to a Mormon church will be a boy scout.
The Boy Scouts of America believes that although some of the more conservative religious denominations such as the Latter-day Saints, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptist oppose homosexual adult leadership, they will accept a youth who declares himself as attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity.
The early response is showing a more positive reaction to allowing gay scouts, but not leaders, than the initial plan to allow each unit to make their own policy.
Although there are still fractions who oppose it, The Latter-day Saints and some of the Southern Baptist leaders have announced that this new policy shows that the BSA has made a good faith effort to deal with a sensitive and difficult situation.
If the proposal is approved, the new policy would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014. A task force already has been created to oversee its implementation.
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