Boy Scouts called to task by local activists

The decision Tuesday by the Boy Scouts of America to continue banning openly gay and lesbian people from joining or serving in the Scouts was met locally by criticism from gay rights group One Colorado.

“This decision — by a secret, unelected committee unwilling to take responsibility for their actions — hurts real people across this country. It hurts gay young adults who are forced to hide who they are as well as gay parents who are denied an opportunity to participate in their children’s lives.

“By standing behind this ban, the Boy Scouts of America are standing in stark contrast to the Girl Scouts of the USA, who have again and again confirmed their commitment to serving all girls, including gay and transgender girls,” said Jace Woodrum, spokesperson for One Colorado.

The Boy Scouts announced the decision in a press release, which said the group had formed a special committee two years ago to review the group’s policy. It did not announce who was on the committee and, according to The New York Times, was unwilling to divulge that information. Denver Area Council Executive and CEO John Cabeza did not return a call seeking comment.

The Scouts’ official policy on gays is that leaders are not supposed to inquire about anyone’s sexual orientation but that membership is not granted to anyone who acknowledges being gay. “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA,” reads the policy on the group’s website.

In addition to banning gays from openly belonging, the Scouts also ban atheists. Both policies have generated controversy over the years.

“The Boy Scouts have been great for me and my son,” said Denver resident Rick Hum. “But Scouting would be even better if they allowed gay Scoutmasters to serve openly and if they allowed young gay men to openly join. It just seems like they are sticking their heads in the sand.”

Hum, who was a Scout as a boy, has worked as a volunteer in the organization for years. His own son joined in first grade and ultimately became an Eagle Scout.

From the Boy Scouts’ press release:

This decision follows a nearly two-year-long examination, started in 2010, of the policy commissioned by the Chief Scout Executive and national president. Under their leadership, the BSA convened a special committee of volunteers and professional leaders to evaluate whether the policy continued to be in the best interest of the organization.

The committee included a diversity of perspectives and opinions. The review included forthright and candid conversation and extensive research and evaluations – both from within Scouting and from outside the organization. The committee’s work and conclusion is that this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth.

“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” said Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America. “While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

Following the recommendation to affirm the BSA’s membership policy, the executive committee of the BSA National Executive Board released the following statement: “Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting. While not all Board members may personally agree with this policy, and may choose a different direction for their own organizations, BSA leadership agrees this is the best policy for the organization and supports it for the BSA.”

Resolutions asking the BSA both to affirm and reconsider this policy have been raised throughout the years. With any resolution, regardless of subject, the BSA may or may not refer it to a committee for review or may immediately determine no further action is necessary.

(Image of Scout salute statue: Bohringer Friedrich via Wikimedia Commons.)

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.