Boy Scouts vote to allow openly gay boys, Lowcountry reaction mixed
In a decision that appears to please no one, the Boy Scout national leadership on Thursday voted to allow openly gay youths in Scouting but kept the door shut to homosexual adult leaders.
Local Scouting officials expressed concern that the full acceptance of gay boys will lead to a loss of membership as some parents pull their children out of the organization.
Area gay-rights activists said the decision sends a confusing, mixed message because it accepts openly gay boys but not their male adult role models.
Tom Hardy, Scoutmaster of Troop 50 in Charleston, had strong feelings about the vote.
“I'm glad they didn't allow gay leaders. I'm glad for that part of the decision,” Hardy said.
But he found fault with allowing openly gay boys.
“We decided as a troop that we don't support that,” he said. “It's a tough call, but do the kids really know at age 14 or 16 what they are? As a minor, I don't think the kids are mature enough to decide.”
Some 61 percent of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America National Council approved the policy change at a meeting in Grapevine, Texas. It is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.
The Coastal Carolina Council will begin implementing the change as directed by the BSA, said Legare Clement, the council scout executive.
“This is a polarizing topic with strong feelings on both sides,” Clement said. “We have been told by many parents that if the policy is changed that they will remove their children from Scouting. I hope this is not the case.”
He said Scouting will continue to provide young people the opportunity to experience a life-changing program of adventure, character development and citizenship training.
Warren Redman Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, said the decision was confusing.
“It really creates a very mixed message,” he said.
The new policy is a double standard because it tells boys that it is OK to be gay until they become adults, he said.
“Discrimination is not the kind of policy Boy Scouts should be promoting,” he said.
Another local group, We Are Family, also found fault with the decision. We Are Family provides services and psycho-social support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight ally youth.
“I think it's a step in the right direction, but I don't see the reasoning. It doesn't make sense,” said Executive Director Melissa Moore.
She said openly gay boys need positive gay male role models.
“I think that the Boy Scouts got it wrong in keeping openly gay adults out. By banning openly gay Scout leaders, they are sending a message to the boys that it's not OK to be gay,” she said.
“They probably tried to appease both sides and ended up making both sides unhappy.”
The Coastal Carolina Council has 8,500 Scouts in Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Georgetown, Hampton and Jasper counties.
Scouting represents approximately 2.6 million youths and 1 million adult members across the nation, with diverse beliefs about a number of important issues.
The vote followed what the BSA described as “the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history” to gauge opinions within the community.
The BSA executive committee suggested a plan in January to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as youth members and adult leaders, or continuing to exclude them. But the plan won little praise, and the BSA changed course after assessing responses to surveys sent out starting in February to members of the Scouting community.
The proposal approved Thursday was seen as a compromise, and the Scouts stressed that they would not condone sexual conduct by any Scout, gay or straight.
“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue,” a BSA statement said.
Since the executive committee just completed a lengthy review process, “there are no plans for further review on this matter,” the group said.
Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the United States, 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions. Those include liberal churches opposed to any ban on gays, but some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations.
The BSA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded gays and atheists.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude gays.
Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
Robert Behre and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Earlier versions of this story inaccurately described the group, We Are Family. The Post and Courier regrets the error.