Scouts considering retreat from no-gays policy
NEW YORK — The Boy Scouts of America soon may give sponsors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as Scouts and leaders — a potentially dramatic retreat from an exclusionary nationwide policy that has provoked relentless protests.
Under the change now being discussed, the various 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, as is now required of all units, or opening up their membership.
How the policy change might affect scouting in the Lowcountry is unclear, according to a local Scout leader.
“It’s not anything we’ve had to deal with,” Coastal Carolina Council Scout Executive Legare Clement said. “Here locally, we have not faced that issue.”
Clement said he wasn’t aware of any gays or lesbians in the Charleston area who expressed an interest in joining a Boy Scout troop or Cub Scout pack but were denied because of the current national policy against it, he said. The new policy would allow troops and packs to accept gay and lesbian leaders and members if the sponsoring organization wanted that, he said.
“We’re not wanting to dictate to any organization who should be leaders,” he said. “I think that’s the direction the policy change is looking at.”
Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, praised the proposed policy change as a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s a good thing they’ve listened to what people have had to say,” he said. “But who in the troop would make that decision (whether to include gays)? It would be much better to follow the lead of the Girl Scouts, who have a national policy of acceptance for people regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Gress said he was not aware of any gays in the Charleston area who want to be Scout leaders or members but said that could change with the new policy.
“I’m guessing there will be more conversation about it in the coming weeks,” he said. “We may hear of people coming forward who did want to join or people who felt they had to leave and want to return.”
Gay-rights activists were elated at the prospect of change, sensing another milestone to go along with recent advances for same-sex marriage and the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
However, Southern Baptist leaders — who consider homosexuality a sin — were furious about the possible change and said its approval might encourage Southern Baptist churches to support other boys’ organizations instead of the BSA.
Monday’s announcement comes after years of protests over the no-gays 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.”
Smith said the change could be announced as early as next week, after BSA’s national board concludes a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 6. The meeting will be closed to the public.
The BSA has long excluded both gays and atheists. Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude gays.
More recently, pressure surfaced on the Scouts’ own national executive board. Two high-powered members — Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson — indicated they would try to work from within to change the membership policy, which stood in contrast to their own companies’ non-discrimination policies. Amid petition campaigns, shipping giant UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck announced that they were halting donations from their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays policy was in force.