Tim Sharp/Reuters file
A statue of a Scout stands at the entrance to the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.
The Boy Scouts of America said Monday that the Utah Pride Center — a LGBT advocacy group — could not charter a troop, even though the group said it would comply with the youth organization's controversial policy banning gay Scouts and leaders.
The Utah Pride Center submitted its application in late February to sponsor a troop with heterosexual leaders and middle-school age boys several weeks ago, said Valerie Larabee, the center's executive director. She said the bid, which comes ahead of the BSA vote in May on whether it should keep the ban, was not a stunt.
"We feel great concern for youth that may be involved in Scouting right now that are hiding something and we don’t ask our kids when they come to our campus here whether they are gay, straight or anything else," she told NBC News by phone. "We assume that they're here because they think this is a safe place and as a safe place we think that we can offer an incredible opportunity to young people who want to be involved in BSA."
Larabee said they submitted their application to Rick Barnes, the chief executive officer of the Great Salt Lake Council. Barnes referred questions to the BSA headquarters, "since this was a national decision."
When contacted for comment on who had reviewed the application and why it was rejected, the BSA said in a two-sentence statement: "The BSA is engaged in an internal discussion about its membership standards policy and is working to stay focused on Scouting’s mission. Based on the mission of this organization [the Utah Pride Center] we do not believe a chartered partner relationship is beneficial to Scouting.”
Larabee said she knew their file was passed higher within the BSA, but did not know if it reached the national headquarters and said they'd had no response from the organization -- just that their application had been returned without remarks on March 4. The center took it as a denial.
"We are disappointed," she said. "It's almost like they don't even want to acknowledge that we even applied. It's like they just want us to go away."
A call placed to a Boy Scout leader who The Salt Lake Tribune said would lead the new troop committee, Nile Eatmon, was not immediately returned. Eatmon, a member of the Great Salt Lake Council's executive board, told the newspaper that he didn't see a problem with the center hosting a troop.
"I was surprised. I thought the Pride Center application complied with the Boy Scouts’ policies," Eatmon said. "All the adult members and youth that were submitted with the application were straight."
Faith-based organizations, civic and educational groups often charter Boy Scout units, providing meeting facilities and leadership among other things. More than 70 percent of the Scouting unit in 2012 were chartered to faith-based organizations, and Larabee believed their application may be a first by a LGBT group, although the BSA did not respond to a question about that.
The BSA announced in late January that it may ditch the national policy banning gays, instead leaving that up to local sponsoring organizations to decide. It then pushed back a decision on the policy to May, when some 1,400 members of Scouting's National Council will vote on a resolution that Boy Scouts' officers are crafting.
The membership guidelines have roiled the organization in recent years.
Last July, the BSA said it was sticking with the ban following a confidential two-year review of the policy. That review was announced months after Jennifer Tyrrell was dismissed from her post as leader of her son’s Tiger Cubs den because she is a lesbian, and a few months before California teen Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle award because he is gay.
Both cases made national headlines for several weeks, and led a few hundred Eagle Scouts to turn in their hard-earned regalia in protest of the ban, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2000.
If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's upcoming decision on the membership policy, you can email the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.