The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tent mates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy, and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.
"There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout," said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. "If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say, ‘We’ll take the troop.’"
The new policy was approved in May with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The vote followed nationwide debate and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation. But gay Scouts will face some limitations.
"Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," says one BSA document.
The BSA has distributed explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy.
• Could a Scout march in uniform in a gay-pride parade? No, says the BSA. "Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting’s official uniforms and insignia when doing so."
• How publicly active could a gay Scout be, in terms of gay-rights advocacy? The BSA’s reply: "While a youth member may acknowledge his or her sexual preference, that acknowledgment may not reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion or the distribution of information of a sexual nature."
Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA says it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.
"The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations," the BSA says.
Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, and specific decisions will be left to unit leaders.
Haddock says he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.
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 youths 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.
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 will 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.
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