April 20, 2013

The Boy Scouts' gay dilemma: A split decision on a divisive issue

The organization will ask members to approve a policy that allows gays as youth members but not as adult leaders

By DAVID CRARY The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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From left, Joshua Kusterer, 12, Nach Mitschke, 6, and Wyatt Mitschke, 4, take part in a “Save Our Scouts” rally at the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters in Dallas, Texas. The organization announced Friday that it will submit a proposal to lift a ban on homosexuals for members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders.

The Associated Press

Many Scout units are sponsored by relatively conservative denominations that have supported the ban on gays in the past -- notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.

LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said Mormon leaders would study the new proposal. There was no immediate public reaction from Southern Baptist or Catholic officials who have been dealing with the BSA membership issue.

The BSA survey tried to gauge the proposal's effect on financial support. Local Scout councils said 51 percent of their major donors opposed easing the ban, while a majority of Fortune 500 companies supported a change.

In another revealing section of the survey, the BSA reported feedback from 30 national youth organizations and civic groups, many of them partners of the Scouts in various endeavors.

Of the 30 organizations, 28 urged the Scouts to lift the ban, and many warned that their partnerships might end if the ban remained.

The BSA also consulted four experts in the field of child sex abuse prevention. The four conveyed a "nearly universal opinion" within their field that homosexuality is not a risk factor for the sexual abuse of children.

Since January, the Scouts have come under intense pressure from activists and advocacy groups on both sides of the membership debate.

In Indiana, for example, there's an ongoing campaign demanding that the United Way withhold funding from the Scouts until the ban is lifted. In California, the state Senate is considering a bill pressuring the BSA to lift the ban by making the organization ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks.

Among the leaders of the anti-ban campaign is Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother who was ousted as her 7-year-old son's Cub Scout den leader because she is gay.

"The Boy Scouts are once again forcing me to look my children in the eyes and tell them that our family isn't good enough," Tyrrell said in a statement Friday.

Another leading opponent of the ban is Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old activist raised by lesbian mothers in Iowa. He pledged to continue his advocacy, yet welcomed the proposed lifting of the ban on gay youths.

"Today, this is about the kids, and we are glad that the Boy Scouts of America is taking this historic step forward," he said in an e-mail.

On the other side, the Family Research Council has been circulating an online petition urging the BSA to keep the ban. And in Utah, the Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council -- one of the largest in the country with 73,400 youth members -- said a survey showed that more than 80 percent of its leaders opposed lifting the ban.

John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout and conservative activist from Florida, assailed the new proposal as a retreat gay-rights pressure.

"We urge the National Council to vote against this resolution and uphold the time-tested membership policy of the Boy Scouts," Stemberger said.

 

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