January 29, 2013

Boy Scouts may end strict no-gays policy

Maine parents appear to support overturning the longtime ban. Some say there wouldn't be a noticeable difference.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Today's poll: Boy Scouts

Should the Boy Scouts of America give spon­sors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as Scouts and leaders?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

In 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)

click image to enlarge

A statue of a Boy Scout stands in front of the National Scouting Museum, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Irving, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America announced it is considering a dramatic retreat from its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

"We felt at the time that the Boy Scouts were violating our discrimination policy," she said.

If the ban is lifted, Kornhauser said, the Boy Scouts will be able to apply for United Way funds.

The national organization sets broad policies, but nearly 300 councils nationwide govern the conduct of about 116,000 local troops. About 70 percent of those troops are sponsored by religious organizations, representing diverse views on gay scouts and leaders.

Officials have said it's likely that gays have served in the organization but have done so without discussing their sexual orientation.

The possible shift could be a response to a decline in Cub Scout membership of nearly 30 percent in the past 14 years.

Last year, after the Boy Scouts affirmed the ban on gay scouts and leaders, Austin Smith, 55, of Portland returned the Eagle Scout medal he earned nearly 40 years ago. He said he made the decision because he wanted to "be on the right side of history."

On Monday, Smith said the potential lifting of the ban would be a big deal. "I was confident that it would be lifted. It was just a matter of when," he said.

When Smith returned his medal in August, he said he was surprised by the reaction, both positive comments from his neighbors and negative responses from anonymous online newspaper readers.

He said that if he had to do it again, he would still return his medal.

In addition to being criticized over its ban on gays, Boy Scouts of America has been buffeted recently by multiple court cases alleging sexual abuse by scout leaders, including those chronicled in long-confidential, recently released records widely known as the "perversion files."

Through various cases, the scouts have been forced to reveal files dating from the 1960s to 1991. They detail numerous cases in which abuse claims were made and Boy Scout officials never alerted authorities, and sometimes sought to protect the accused.

Boy Scouts of America is now under a court order in California, affirmed this month by the state Supreme Court, to turn over sex-abuse files from 1991 through 2011 to lawyers for a former Scout who claims a leader molested him in 2007, when he was 13. It's not clear how soon the files might become public.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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Today's poll: Boy Scouts

Should the Boy Scouts of America give spon­sors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as Scouts and leaders?

Yes

No

View Results