Boy Scouts policy brings mixed local reaction

By The Associated Press

GRAPEVINE, Texas — After lengthy and wrenching debate, leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have voted to open their ranks to openly gay boys for the first time, but heated reactions from the left and right made clear that the BSA’s controversies are far from over.

The Scouts’ longstanding ban on gay adults remains in force, and many liberal Scout leaders — as well as gay-rights groups — plan to continue pressing for an end to that exclusion even though the BSA’s top officials aren’t ready for that step.

Meanwhile, many conservatives within the Scouts are distraught at the outcome of the vote and some are threatening to defect. A meeting is planned for next month to discuss formation of a new organization for boys.

In Dubois County, which has more than 1,000 active Boy Scouts, reactions are mixed.
Phyllis Hayden, committee chairwoman for Holland Boy Scout Troop 187, has four sons, two currently in Scouting and two who are Eagle Scouts. Through Boy Scouts, she has worked with students with special needs at Jasper and Forest Park high schools. The national decision Thursday prompted her to make a decision of her own.

“I’m very disappointed, because I did not want them to allow that,” she said. “Because of this, I am going to withdraw from Scouts and take my boys also.”

She said the decision to allow openly gay boys to join goes against her Catholic beliefs. The decision opens a door to allow openly gay adults to become leaders down the line, she said.

Father Ray Brenner of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, which charters Boy Scout Troop 182, said that the change doesn’t bother him.

“I have no problem with it,” he said. Scouting events are monitored by two adults at all times, he said, and there was no need for concern.

In a statement Thursday night, John Harding, Scout executive for Buffalo Trace Council, which includes troops in Dubois County, said the change was made after careful consideration and extensive feedback.

“We believe good people can disagree on a variety of topics and yet still work together to accomplish great things for youth,” he said in the statement.

Harding said he already has seen positive and negative reactions to the change, and acknowledged that this is a complex issue. In general, people seem to be relieved at least that the debate is over, he said.

“I think everybody is universally saying, ”˜We’re glad this chapter is closing.’ Everybody is ready to get back to Scouting,” he said.

The national council’s vote was conducted by secret ballot Thursday during its annual meeting at a conference center not far from Boy Scout headquarters in suburban Dallas. Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing executive committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.

“This has been a challenging chapter in our history,” BSA Chief Executive Wayne Brock said after the vote. “While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they’re in Scouting.”

However, the outcome will not end the membership policy debate, as was evident in the reactions of leaders of some of the conservative religious denominations that sponsor Scout units.

“We are deeply saddened,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee. “Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.”

The Assemblies of God said the policy change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.” It also warned that the change would make the BSA vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to end the ban on gay adults.

Pascal Tessier, an openly gay 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland, had mixed emotions after the vote.

“I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout,” he said. “Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing.”

Tessier is on track to receive his Eagle Scout award — he needs only to complete his final project — but said he is troubled that on his 18th birthday he could transform from someone holding Scouting’s highest rank to someone unfit to be a part of the organization.

“That one couple hours (between ages 17 and 18) will make me not a good person,” he said.

Tessier has been an exception — an openly gay Scout whose presence was quietly accepted by local Scout leaders. In general, the Scouts’ policy has been to avoid any questioning of would-be Scouts as to their sexual orientation, but to dismiss boys who spoke openly about being gay.

For example, Scout officials refused to grant the Eagle Scout rank to Ryan Andresen, an 18-year-old Californian, after he came out as gay last year.

The BSA’s overall “traditional youth membership” — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers — is now about 2.6 million, compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past. It also has about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers.

Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 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 that previously have supported the broad ban — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.

Herald Staff Writer John Seasly contributed to this report.

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