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Boy Scouts propose allowing gay scouts but banning gay leaders

Courtesy of Jennifer Tyrrell / file

Jennifer Tyrrell, who was expelled last year as a den master for the Cub Scout den of her son Cruz Burns, said she feared some scouts would be "thrown out when they reach the age to become leaders."

The Boy Scouts of America will vote next month on a proposal that would lift its ban on allowing gay boys to be scouts but would continue to bar gay adults from being scout leaders, the organization said Friday.

The proposal — a revision of a plan the Scouts floated in January that would have left it up to local troops whether to accept gay members and leaders — left advocates on both sides of the issue dissatisfied.

Opponents of accepting gay scouts complained that the organization would be abandoning its decades-old values, while supporters said the organization would be abandoning gay youths on their 18th birthdays.

"The Boy Scouts are once again forcing me to look my children in the eyes and tell them that our family isn't good enough," said Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, who was expelled last year as a den master for her 7-year-old son's Cub Scout den because she is a lesbian.

"My heart goes out to the young adults in Scouting who would be able to continue as scouts if this is passed, but then be thrown out when they reach the age to become leaders," Tyrrell said Friday.

But John Stemberger, founder of On My Honor, a coalition of Scouting parents and leaders who support the ban, said the proposal was "cleverly worded ... to dodge criticism from gay activists" while creating "a myriad of problems for how to manage and ensure the safety of the boys in the program."

"When it comes to young boys, parents should still have the final say on the issues of sexuality and politics, Stemberger said in a statement. "Allowing open homosexuality in the BSA injects both those topics right into the program."

The Scouts, one of the U.S.'s most popular private youth groups, said Friday that its National Council would vote on the proposal the week of May 20.

In an unexpected move in January, the organization proposed a resolution that would let local Scouting organizations decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts and adult leaders. But it said Friday that it changed its mind after it was flooded with hundreds of thousands of responses to surveys it commissioned on the idea.

Among the 280 administrative local councils, half recommended no change, 38 percent recommended a change and 14 percent took a neutral position, the Scouts said.

"While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting," the organization said in a statement.

Read the entire proposed resolution (.pdf)

The membership policy has roiled the Boy Scouts in recent years, particularly after the ouster of Tyrrell and the denial of the Eagle Scout rank to California teenager Ryan Andresen because he is gay. 

While many of the more than 116,000 local Scouting organizations nationwide are sponsored by religious groups that oppose gay and lesbian rights, the new resolution declares that "the Boy Scouts of America does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization."

Zach Wahls, founder of the nonprofit activist group Scouts for Equality, disagreed. "We will continue to fight to push discrimination out of Scouting once and for all," he said.

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While "we are glad that the Boy Scouts of America is taking this historic step forward," the proposed ban on gay leaders would "continue to prevent many great and loving parents from sharing the joys of Scouting with their children," he said.

But Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, urged the Boy Scouts not to "jettison the core value that homosexual conduct is immoral."

"This resolution would introduce open homosexuality into the ranks and eventually the leadership of Scouting," Perkins said in a statement. "This is totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Scouting parents who want to keep their exclusive right to discuss issues of sexuality with their sons."

Hundreds of comments on the Scouts' Facebook page reflected those divisions, with many weighing in to urge the Scouts to continue its ban and others saying they were disappointed that the organization was splitting the difference by differentiating between gay youths and adults:

  • "No person — youth or adult — should be denied Scouting membership because of their sexual orientation. This proposed resolution is a step in the right direction, but it is wholly insufficient. Now is the time for the Boy Scouts of America to take a firm stand and become a preeminent leader in morality and equality. Intolerance and bullying are not Scouting values."
  • "Possibly the worst solution they could have come up with. It will satisfy no one, and will only prolong the issue. Almost any other alternative, from a complete acceptance of gays to a complete upholding of current policy would have been more defensible."
  • "Evasive once again! They need to change the policy across the board and be done with it. Enough "beating around the bush" and trying to avoid the issues at hand! As a Cubmaster, I am truly fed up with the whole thing and can't wait to be done!"


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