January 28, 2013

Boy Scouts may end strict no-gays policy

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The Boy Scouts of America may soon give sponsors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as scouts and leaders — a potentially dramatic retreat from an exclusionary nationwide policy that has provoked relentless protests.

click image to enlarge

n this July 18, 2012 file photo, Jennifer Tyrrell hugs her son Cruz Burns, 7, outside Boy Scouts national offices in Irving, Texas, after a meeting with representatives of the 102-year-old organization. The Ohio woman was ousted as a den mother because she is a lesbian. The Boys Scouts of America announced Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, that it is considering a dramatic retreat from its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

LOCAL REACTION

State Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, an Eagle Scout, said he is generally supportive of the changes under consideration by the Boy Scouts of America that would allow Scout units to accept gay members or leaders. 

“It’s time, time for us to move on. Society has moved on dramatically,” Saviello said Monday. 

Saviello said he’s grateful to Boy Scouts, saying it kept him out of trouble as he was growing up in New Jersey. 

“Boy Scouts got me where I am today — I had men who were great leaders, and I’m very proud to be an Eagle Scout,” he said.

He added that it’s time to “figure out how it’s all going to piece together, and we got to see how to change.” 

— Kennebec Journal staff

Under the change now being discussed, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue — either maintaining an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or opening up their membership.

Monday's announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the no-gays policy — including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

Under the proposed change, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith, "the Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents."

Smith said the change could be announced as early as next week, after BSA's national board concludes a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 6. The meeting will be closed to the public.

The BSA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists. Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and that the BSA continued to view "Duty to God" as one of its basic principles.

Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.

More recently, amid petition campaigns, shipping giant UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck announced that they were halting donations from their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays policy was in force.

Also, local Scout officials drew widespread criticism in recent months for ousting Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom, as a den leader of her son's Cub Scout pack in Ohio and for refusing to approve an Eagle Scout application by Ryan Andresen, a California teen who came out as gay last fall.

Tyrrell said she's thrilled for parents and their children who've been excluded from scouting and "for those who are in Scouts and hiding who they are."

"For me it's not just about the Boy Scouts of America, it's about equality," she told The Associated Press. "This is a step toward equality in all aspects."

Many of the protest campaigns, including one seeking Tyrrell's reinstatement, had been waged with help from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong," said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD's president. "Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."

The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy as recently as last year, and appeared to have strong backing from conservative religious denominations — notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists — which sponsor large numbers of Scout units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.

Prior to Monday's announcement, the BSA conferred with some leaders of these religious groups, although there were no official statements as to how they would respond.

(Continued on page 2)

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