Scout leader favors vote
May 25, 2013 11:00 AM
by RANDY WELLS

A top Boy Scouts of America executive for Indiana County and the surrounding area said Friday he doesn’t think Thursday’s vote by the BSA’s leadership to allow gay boys to join Scouting’s ranks will have much of a day-to-day impact on the program locally.

Following a lengthy review of membership guidelines, approximately 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council, meeting in Grapevine, Texas, approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone.

A ban on gay adults in Scouting remains in place.

“Obviously, there are passionate people on both sides” of the issue, said Bernie Lockard Jr., of Indiana, who next month will become the president of the Laurel Highlands Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which includes Indiana County and eight other counties and parts of five more counties in southwest Pennsylvania.

The Laurel Highlands Council, with 32,000 Scouting members, is one of the top 10 councils in the nation in terms of membership, according to Lockard.

Lockard said Friday from Texas that the Laurel Highlands Council itself was split on the question of whether openly gay boys should be admitted into Scouting.

“Personally … I feel it’s good for the program,” Lockard said of the decision to drop the ban and allow gay boys to be Scouts.

Lockard said he voted Thursday to eliminate the ban, and cast his vote not as a Laurel Highlands Council leader but as a member of Scouting’s executive committee of the Northeast Region.

He said that while there are certain areas of the nation — generally more conservative, rural areas — opposed to allowing gay boys to be Scouts, he believes the average American family with the young population segment likely to become Scouts “pretty much would be in favor of dropping the ban.”

Lockard said he doesn’t think Thursday’s vote will fundamentally change anything in the Laurel Highlands Council. There is already a prohibition in Scouting on discussions of sexual issues.

And the Laurel Highlands Council’s membership is approximately 60 percent Cub Scouts, and sexual orientation — whether homosexual or heterosexual — is not one of the more pressing issues for boys that age, Lockard said.

When asked if he thought the change will trigger a mass defection from Scouting, as some have predicted, Lockard said, “I really don’t.”

The policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, “allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units,” according to the statement on the BSA website.

Elsewhere around the nation, there were indications Friday that the Boy Scouts of America will get no reprieve from controversy after the contentious vote to accept openly gay boys as Scouts.

Dismayed conservatives are already looking at alternative youth groups as they predict a mass exodus from the BSA. Gay-rights supporters vowed Friday to maintain pressure on the Scouts to end the still-in-place ban on gay adults serving as leaders.

“They’re not on our good list yet,” said Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He said the HRC, in its annual rankings of corporate policies on workplace fairness, would deduct points from companies that donate to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

In California, gay-rights leaders said they would continue urging passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would make the BSA ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks because of the remaining ban.

The Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Wayne Brock, pleaded for the Scouting community to reunite after the divisive debate that led to Thursday’s vote by the BSA’s National Council. The proposal to lift the ban on openly gay youth — while keeping the ban on gay adults — was supported by about 60 percent of the council’s 1,400 voting members.

However, Brock’s plea failed to sway some conservative religious leaders whose denominations sponsor many Scout units and who consider same-sex relationships immoral.

“Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, a senior Southern Baptist Conference official, told the SBC’s news agency, Baptist Press.

Land advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and consider affiliating instead with the Royal Ambassadors, an existing SBC youth program for boys that combines religious ministry with Scouting-style activities.

Baptist churches sponsor Scout units serving more than 100,000 of the BSA’s 2.6 million youth members.

The Assemblies of God, which oversees units serving more than 2,000 Scouts, said it could no longer support such units and suggested its own Royal Rangers youth group as a “positive alternative.”

John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he and his allies would convene a meeting next month in Louisville, Ky., to discuss creation of a “new character development organization for boys.”

“We grieve today, not because we are faced with leaving Scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us,” Stemberger said. “Its leadership has turned its back on 103 years of abiding by a mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.”

There is a template for forming a conservative alternative to a major national youth organization. American Heritage Girls was formed in 1995 as a Christian-oriented option to the Girl Scouts of the USA, and it now claims more than 20,000 members.

From the left, gay-rights supporters — including President Barack Obama — generally welcomed the move to accept openly gay Scouts, but urged the BSA to take the further step of welcoming gay adults as leaders.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye said Obama “continues to believe that leadership positions in the Scouts should be open to all, regardless of sexual orientation.”

Rich Ferraro of GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said his group would continue a campaign to discourage corporate giving to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

He also predicted that the presence of openly gay boys in Scout ranks would undermine the viability of the adult ban as those youth turn 18 and seek leadership posts.

“The BSA now will have to look gay teens in the eye, boys who’ve been involved in Scouting for years, and tell them they’re not going to be able to grow into adult leaders,” Ferraro said. “Those conversations will be difficult and shouldn’t be had.”

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old activist raised by lesbian mothers in Iowa, has been a leader of the campaign to end the BSA’s no-gays policy. He said his group, Scouts for Equality, would continue to press for lifting the ban on gay adults, while also monitoring how the BSA implements its new policy for gay youth.

“We’ll act as a watchdog,” he said. “If any gay youth feel they’re experiencing harassment or discrimination, we want to be there for them.”

For some parents of Scouts, the entire membership debate has been emotionally draining, and the decision to accept openly gay youth left them disenchanted or confused.

Wes Comer, whose family attends an Apostolic Pentecostal church near Knoxville, Tenn., that considers homosexuality sinful, had been wrestling with whether to pull his eldest son out of the Scouts if the no-gays policy was abandoned.

“To be honest, I’m torn at this point,” Comer said Friday in an email. “I’m not sure exactly what our decision will be.”

“If I place this situation in the context of my religious beliefs, I’m forced to ask myself, ‘Would I turn a homosexual child away from Sunday school? From a church function? Would I forbid my children to be friends with a gay child?’ I can’t imagine a situation where I would answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions. So how can I in this one?” he wrote.

Yet he said was “extremely disappointed” in the entire debate, and suggested that the BSA “has dealt itself a mortal blow.”

Another Scouting father, Don Mack, of Waconia, Minn., said he and his 10-year-old son will be leaving Cub Scouts after the current year is done and his son gets his Arrow of Light Award.

Mack, a Scout himself as a boy and a self-described conservative Christian, has been a Cub Scout leader for about five years. Now, because of the vote to admit gay youth, he and his son both want out. And they’ll be looking for an alternative program that offers similar character-building benefits as the Scouts.

“We home-school, and my wife and I teach our son you need to stand up for what’s right, even if that means sacrifice or getting hurt in the process,” Mack said. “It was not an easy choice for us to make because our family believed in the mission Scouting has to offer. I kind of feel like my best friend died.”

Associated Press writer David Crary contributed to this report.

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