Boy Scouts open ranks to gay youth on Jan. 1
There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA’s exclusion of gay youth and gay adults.
Among the major sponsors, the Southern Baptist Convention made clear its disappointment with the new youth policy, but left the decision on whether to cut ties up to local churches. An SBC spokesman, Sing Oldham, said it was not known how many churches have done so.
The biggest sponsor of Scout units — the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — commended the BSA for a "thoughtful, good-faith effort" to address a challenging issue, and said it would stay engaged in Scouting.
John Gailey of the Utah National Parks Council, the nation’s largest council, said its youth membership had increased from 74,148 in December 2012 to 75,863 this month.
Like the Mormons, the Roman Catholic Church has generally accepted the new policy. Many parishes will continue to sponsor Scout units, though a few have considered cutting ties.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting posted a question-and-answer document on its website, delving into the intersection of Scouting policy and Catholic teaching.
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that individuals who disclose a same-sex attraction are to be treated with the same dignity due all human beings ... and also teaches that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is always immoral," says the Q-and-A, concluding that the new BSA policy does not contradict Catholic teaching.
The ultimate decision on whether parishes would maintain or cut ties with the BSA was left to individual bishops. Several expressed cautious support for continuing in Scouting.
"As the new policy currently stands, I see no reason to prohibit our parishes from sponsoring Boy Scout troops," said Rev. Kevin Rhoades, bishop of Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. "At the same time, it is critical that we be vigilant on how this new policy is interpreted and implemented."
One likely target of such scrutiny will be former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, scheduled to take over in the spring as the BSA’s next president. As leader of the Pentagon, Gates helped change the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy banning openly gay soldiers, and gay-rights groups hope he will try to end the BSA’s ban on gay adult leaders.
The new youth policy was approved during a BSA meeting in May in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine, near the Scouts’ national headquarters in Irving, Texas.
Texas has a long heritage of Scouting, with tens of thousands of youth members and many families claiming generations of Eagle Scouts. Among them is Gov. Rick Perry, who achieved Scouting’s highest rank growing up in the small town of Paint Creek.
The membership debate was closely followed by local Scouts on both sides; some carried signs and held rallies outside the meeting place. But in subsequent months, the debate has quieted.
Bill Helfand, scoutmaster of Troop 55 in Houston, said membership in his troop has remained steady at about 225 boys.
"We never considered sexual orientation, and I don’t think many troops really did," Helfand said. "I don’t know whether we had Scouts who are homosexual. I don’t inquire ... It’s not a matter of concern."
Helfand said the membership debate, while closely covered in the media, did not extend into his meetings with leaders and parents, besides occasional discussion of the policy at camp-outs. He says he hasn’t talked to any Scout about his sexual orientation and doesn’t intend to.
"I know that this is something that people felt was a momentous turning point for Scouting," Helfand said. "Everybody I know has made Scouting available to every boy who wants it, and that’s what we continue to do."
However, some Texas parents and leaders have decided to switch to Trail Life USA, an alternative which declares itself "a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men." Among them is Ron Orr, a business consultant from the Fort Worth area who is signing up local units for the group.