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Boy Scouts defy orders, wear uniforms in Utah gay pride parade

Rick Bowmer / AP

Members of the Mormons Building Bridges march during the Utah Gay Pride Parade Sunday, June 2, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Kenji Mikesell, second from right, is an 18-year-old Eagle Scout still active in his troop that is sponsored by the Mormon church. He decided to wear his uniform though an area Boy Scouts' official said Scouts and adults with the program were not permitted to do so. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Boy Scouts and adult volunteers wore their uniforms Sunday as they marched in Utah's gay pride parade — defying a leader of the youth organization who had said they couldn't do so under the organization's guidelines prohibiting advocating political or social positions.

The Utah Pride Festival Parade came a little more than a week after national delegates of the Boy Scouts of America approved allowing gay youth to join, ending controversial membership guidelines that had in recent years dogged one of the nation's most popular organizations for children and teens.

"It just feels like the right thing to do," Kenji Mikesell, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout and high school senior still active with his troop, said before leaving for the parade in Salt Lake City in his uniform.

"It's kind of a way of saying we want you here,” added Mikesell, who marched with Mormons Building Bridges and whose troop is chartered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Scouting has been a very positive influence in my life, and I'd like to see more people take advantage of it now that the ban has been lifted.”

Peter Brownstein, a Scoutmaster in Salt Lake City who helped organize the Boy Scouts participation in the march, said a few adults and youth marched at the front of the parade in uniform, including a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout and his stepdad, an Eagle Scout, who borrowed a uniform to wear, and an Asst. Scoutmaster.

But a local leader of the Boy Scouts had said Friday that they were prohibited from doing so. 

"We as a Scouting movement do not advocate any social or political position, so I reminded Mr. Brownstein that we do not wear uniforms at an event like this," said Rick Barnes, chief scout executive of the Great Salt Lake Council, which consists of more than 75,000 youth. "We do not, as Boy Scouts, show support for any social or political position. We're neutral. If he wants to attend the parade and others do that are Scouts or Scouters, they're welcome to do so as private citizens wearing whatever they want except their uniform.

“That's our official position. It always has been, there's nothing new here," he added. "We just don't want people to use the Boy Scouts to advocate their positions."

It wasn't clear what the consequences of wearing their uniforms would be. 

In a statement, Deron Smith, a spokesman for the national headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America, said it was up to the local council to determine any punishment.

"These individuals stated a personal opinion and do not represent Scouting," said Smith. "Scouting teaches young people that often in life one finds rules they don’t agree with, but a Scout is to be obedient. To simply disobey a rule because you disagree with it is not an example to set for youth. It is up to each council to determine how best to hold their leaders to the standards of Scouting.  We will support the Greater Salt Lake Area Council as they determine the appropriate response."

Barnes said Sunday he had nothing to add to the statement from Smith. On Friday, he said he expected the group to comply, citing the part of the Scout Oath that says a Scout is trustworthy.

Mikesell said he wasn't worried about any consequences. But Brownstein did not wear his uniform and instead opted for a T-shirt that carried the message of inclusive Scouting, with a rainbow square knot on it. His son, an Eagle Scout, and another Scout wore shirts promoting allowing gays in Scouting (LGBT adults are not allowed to join the program).

Brownstein, 53, said it was a disappointment that he couldn't wear his uniform.

"We're just trying to demonstrate that Scouts can be a part of all parts of society, all parts of life," he said before the parade. "While I am not wearing my uniform, other people will be. And this is not about me, this is about getting the message out to America" of "inclusiveness in Scouting, the need for equality."

After the march, he noted: “It felt awesome to proudly represent an organization that is making progress towards change and acceptance … and slowly making progress on opening their organization to many more people who can benefit from the wonderful program."

"And the progress forward will continue,” he added.

Scouts for Equality, a group that campaigns for the LGBT community to be welcomed in Scouting, had said that members of the Boy Scouts have previously marched in pride parades elsewhere. But they called for youth and adults in the Utah Scouting program to abide by Barnes' call and not wear their formal uniforms in the parade.

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 change in the membership policy, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. 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.

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