Boy Scouts Open Ranks to Gay Youth on Jan. 1

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Gay Pride Photo Gallery


The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year's Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications - ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.

Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year's Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.

"My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare," said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. "It's business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward."

Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven't materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of fallout," said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. "If a church said they wouldn't work with us, we'd have a church right down the street say, `We'll take the troop.'"

The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.

Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation. However, gay Scouts will face some limitations.

"Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," says one BSA document. "No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation."

Trying to anticipate potential friction, the BSA has distributed extensive explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy.

Some examples:

-Could a Scout march in uniform in a gay-pride parade? No, says the BSA. "Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting's official uniforms and insignia when doing so."

-How publicly active could a gay Scout be, in terms of gay-rights advocacy? The BSA's reply: "While a youth member may acknowledge his or her sexual preference, that acknowledgment may not reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion, or the distribution of information of a sexual nature."

A frequently-asked-questions document anticipates that some objections might surface from parents - or Scouts themselves - in cases where a unit includes an openly gay boy.

Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA says it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.

"The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations," the BSA says.

Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders.

"If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored," says the BSA.

Haddock says "isolated pockets" of problems are likely to surface, but overall he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.

There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA's exclusion of gay youth and gay adults.

Among the major sponsors, the Southern Baptist Convention made clear its disappointment with the new youth policy, but left the decision on whether to cut ties up to local churches. An SBC spokesman, Sing Oldham, said it was not known how many churches have done so.

The biggest sponsor of Scout units - the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - commended the BSA for a "thoughtful, good-faith effort" to address a challenging issue, and said it would stay engaged in Scouting.

John Gailey of the Utah National Parks Council, the nation's largest council, said its youth membership had increased from 74,148 in December 2012 to 75,863 this month.

Like the Mormons, the Roman Catholic Church has generally accepted the new policy. Many parishes will continue to sponsor Scout units, though a few have considered cutting ties.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting posted a question-and-answer document on its website, delving into the intersection of Scouting policy and Catholic teaching.

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that individuals who disclose a same-sex attraction are to be treated with the same dignity due all human beings ... and also teaches that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is always immoral," says the Q-and-A, concluding that the new BSA policy does not contradict Catholic teaching.

The ultimate decision on whether parishes would maintain or cut ties with the BSA was left to individual bishops. Several expressed cautious support for continuing in Scouting.

"As the new policy currently stands, I see no reason to prohibit our parishes from sponsoring Boy Scout troops," said Rev. Kevin Rhoades, bishop of Indiana's Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. "At the same time, it is critical that we be vigilant on how this new policy is interpreted and implemented."

One likely target of such scrutiny will be former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, scheduled to take over in the spring as the BSA's next president. As leader of the Pentagon, Gates helped change the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning openly gay soldiers, and gay-rights groups hope he will try to end the BSA's ban on gay adult leaders.

The new youth policy was approved during a BSA meeting in May in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine, near the Scouts' national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Texas has a long heritage of Scouting, with tens of thousands of youth members and many families claiming generations of Eagle Scouts. Among them is Gov. Rick Perry, who achieved Scouting's highest rank growing up in the small town of Paint Creek.

The membership debate was closely followed by local Scouts on both sides; some carried signs and held rallies outside the meeting place. But in subsequent months, the debate has quieted.

Bill Helfand, scoutmaster of Troop 55 in Houston, said membership in his troop has remained steady at about 225 boys.

"We never considered sexual orientation, and I don't think many troops really did," Helfand said. "I don't know whether we had Scouts who are homosexual. I don't inquire ... It's not a matter of concern."

Helfand said the membership debate, while closely covered in the media, did not extend into his meetings with leaders and parents, besides occasional discussion of the policy at camp-outs. He says he hasn't talked to any Scout about his sexual orientation and doesn't intend to.

"I know that this is something that people felt was a momentous turning point for Scouting," Helfand said. "Everybody I know has made Scouting available to every boy who wants it, and that's what we continue to do."

However, some Texas parents and leaders have decided to switch to Trail Life USA, an alternative which declares itself "a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men." Among them is Ron Orr, a business consultant from the Fort Worth area who is signing up local units for the group.

So far, he said he has 25 groups "pre-chartered" for a Jan. 1 launch date in the territory covered by the BSA's Circle Ten and Longhorn councils. That's modest compared to the 39,000 Scouts served by the Circle Ten council alone.

Orr is part of a family with four generations of Eagle Scouts. His older son recently earned his Eagle rank and his younger son was on the verge of doing likewise. But Orr said he could not stand by after the policy change.

"As Christians, from a scriptural basis, we love all folks, but the scripture is very clear that being homosexual is a sin," Orr said. "We've got to be able to hold a strong line and set a consistent example for our young men."

Orr said his decision to cut ties with the BSA rested in part on the Scout Oath, which includes the admonition to remain "morally straight."

Scott Scarborough of Lubbock, Texas, is helping Orr recruit Trail Life members in the Texas Panhandle, a mostly rural, conservative region. Scarborough said he offered to let his 14-year-old son stay in Boy Scouts and achieve his Eagle rank, but the boy elected to join him in Trail Life.

Orr and Scarborough said they didn't consider themselves rivals to the Boy Scouts, though they've chosen a different path.

"Our tradition comes out of Boy Scouts," Scarborough said. "We'll never not honor that heritage."

28 PHOTOS
Boy Scouts of America Open Ranks to Gay Youth, new hire, Pascal Tessier
See Gallery
Boy Scouts Open Ranks to Gay Youth on Jan. 1
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JULY 27: Boy Scout merit badge patches are displayed in a store at the Marin Council of the Boy Scouts of America on July 27, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is poised to vote to end a ban on gay adult leaders. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JULY 27: A Boy Scout uniform hangs in a store at the Marin Council of the Boy Scouts of America on July 27, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is poised to vote to end a ban on gay adult leaders. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN RAFAEL, CA - JULY 27: The Boy Scout logo is displayed in a store at the Marin Council of the Boy Scouts of America on July 27, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is poised to vote to end a ban on gay adult leaders. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Scout leader Jesse Pacem, left, directs Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as they prepare to lead marchers at the 41st annual Pride Parade Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. Large turnouts were expected for gay pride parades across the U.S. following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples can marry anywhere in the country. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts prepare to lead marchers while waving flags at the 41st annual Pride Parade Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. A large turnout was expected for gay pride parades across the U.S. following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples can marry anywhere in the country. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Dave Knapp, Pascal Tessier and Greg Bourke attend the 19th Annual Out100 Awards presented by Buick at Terminal 5 on November 14, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for OUT100 presented by Buick)
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, Pascal Tessier smiles at a meeting where he received his Eagle Scout badge in Chevy Chase, Md. On Thursday, April 2, 2015, the Boy Scouts’ New York chapter announced it hired Tessier as the nation’s first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader in public contrast to the national scouting organization’s ban on openly gay adult members. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)
The Boy Scout uniform of Pascal Tessier, 17, a gay Eagle Scout from Kensington, Md., includes his merit badges and a rainbow-colored neckerchief slider, as he speaks in front of a group of Boy Scouts and scout leaders, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, outside the headquarters of Amazon.com in Seattle. The group delivered a petition to Amazon that was started as an online effort by Tessier and gathered more than 125,000 signatures, urging Amazon to stop donating money to the Boy Scouts due to the organization's policy of excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions, despite recently accepting gay youth as scouts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2014 fie photo Pascal Tessier, left, a gay Boy Scout, receives his Eagle Scout badge from Troop 52 Scoutmaster Don Beckham, right, in Chevy Chase, Md., to become one of the first openly gay scouts to reach scouting's highest rank. The Boy Scouts of America said Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 that it lost 6 percent of its membership after an often-bruising year in which it announced it would accept openly gay boys for the first time, over the objections of some participants who eventually left the organization. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)
In this Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 photo, Pascal Tessier, 16, center left, a Boy Scout, and his brother Lucien Tessier, 20, who had earned the rank of Eagle Scout, pose for a portrait with their parents, Oliver Tessier, left, and Tracie Felker, at their home in Kensington, Md. The two Tessier boys enjoyed Cub Scouts, progressed to Boy Scouts, and continued to thrive there even as many in their troop became aware that each boy was gay. The family is grateful for that, but fervently hopes the BSA's top leaders officially scrap the ban so that open acceptance becomes the norm for Scout units nationwide. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Pascal Tessier ,center, takes part in an activity with Matthew Huerta, left, and Michael Fine, right, after he received his Eagle Scout badge from Troop 52 Scoutmaster Don Beckham, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Chevy Chase, Md. Tessier, of Maryland, has become one of the first openly gay scouts to reach the highest rank of Eagle, following a policy change to allow gay youth in the Boy Scouts of America. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Pascal Tessier, 17, left, a gay Eagle Scout from Kensington, Md., leads a group of Boy Scouts and scout leaders, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in delivering four boxes of signatures and comments on a petition to Amazon.com that was started as an online effort by Tessier, urging Amazon to stop donating money to the Boy Scouts due to the organization's policy of excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions, despite recently accepting gay youth as scouts, outside the headquarters of Amazon.com in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pascal Tessier, 17, a gay Eagle Scout from Kensington, Md., speaks in front of a group of Boy Scouts and scout leaders, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, outside the headquarters of Amazon.com in Seattle. The group delivered a petition to Amazon that was started as an online effort by Tessier and gathered more than 125,000 signatures, urging Amazon to stop donating money to the Boy Scouts due to the organization's policy of excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions, despite recently accepting gay youth as scouts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pascal Tessier, 17, a gay Eagle Scout from Kensington, Md., right, speaks in front of a group of Boy Scouts and scout leaders, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, outside the headquarters of Amazon.com in Seattle. The group delivered a petition to Amazon that was started as an online effort by Tessier and gathered more than 125,000 signatures, urging Amazon to stop donating money to the Boy Scouts due to the organization's policy of excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions, despite recently accepting gay youth as scouts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Boy Scouts of America National Commissioner Tico Perez, front, addresses reporters questions as BSA National President Wayne Perry, left, rear, watches Thursday, May 23, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to ease a divisive ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the nation's leading youth organization ? one of the most dramatic moves the organization has made in a century. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Terri Hall, left, of San Anotonio, Texas, stands with her son Nathaniel Hall, 8, as they holds signs near where the Boy Scouts of America are holding their annual meeting Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Delegates to the meeting are expected to address a proposal to allow gay scouts into the organization. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: Members of Scouts for Equality hold a rally to call for equality and inclusion for gays in the Boy Scouts of America as part of the "Scouts for Equality Day of Action" May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Boy Scouts of America is scheduled to hold a two day meeting tomorrow with 1,400 local adult leaders to consider changing its policy of barring openly gay teens from participating in the Boy Scouts. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
BETHESDA, MD - APRIL 11: Pascal Tessier, 16, left, protests with others for equality within Boy Scouts of America along Wisconsin Ave. on Thursday April 11, 2013 in Bethesda, MD. Tessier is a scout and is gay. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former Cub Scouts den leader Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted from Scouting because she is openly gay, wears a button on her uniform shirt that reads "We Support All Boy Scouts" as she responds to a reporters question Thursday, May 23, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to ease a divisive ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the nation's leading youth organization ? one of the most dramatic moves the organization has made in a century. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Boy Scouts from right, Joey Kalich, 10, Steven Grime, 7, and Jonathon Grime, 9, raise their hands at the close of a news conference held by people against the change in the Boy Scouts of America gay policy Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Delegates to the Boys Scouts of America meeting nearby are expected to address a proposal on Thursday to allow gay scouts into the organization. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Former Cub Scouts den leader Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted from Scouting because she is openly gay, responds to a reporters question Thursday, May 23, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to ease a divisive ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the nation's leading youth organization ? one of the most dramatic moves the organization has made in a century. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
GRAPEVINE, TX - MAY 23: Jennifer Tyrrell (L) of Bridgeport, Ohio, speaks at a news conference as Pascal Tessier, 16, of Kensington, Maryland, wipes his eyes at a news conference held at the Great Wolf Lodge May 23, 2013 in Grapevine, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America today ended its policy of prohibitting openly gay youths from participating in Scout activities, while leaving intact its ban on gay adults and leaders. Jennifer was kicked out of the scouts as a Cub Scout den leader in 2012 for being openly gay. Pascal, who was told by Scout leaders that since he was openly gay, he could not attain the Eagle Scout rank, but was permitted to remain a Scout, will now be able to resume his pursuit of the Eagle Scout rank. (Photo by Stewart House/Getty Images)
GRAPEVINE, TX - MAY 23: Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, hugs Pascal Tessier, 16, of Kensington, Maryland, at a news conference held at the Great Wolf Lodge May 23, 2013 in Grapevine, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America today ended its policy of prohibitting openly gay youths from participating in Scout activities, while leaving intact its ban on gay adults and leaders. Jennifer was kicked out of the scouts as a Cub Scout den leader in 2012 for being openly gay. Pascal was told by Scout leaders that since he was openly gay he could not attain the Eagle Scout rank, but was permitted to remain a Scout. After today's decision, he will be able to resume his pursuit of the Eagle Scout rank. (Photo by Stewart House/Getty Images)
GRAPEVINE, TX - MAY 23: Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, a Cub Scout den leader who was kicked out in 2012 for being openly gay, embraces her son Cruz Burns, 8, before a news conference at the Great Wolf Lodge May 23, 2013 in Grapevine, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America today ended its policy of prohibitting openly gay youths from participating in Scout activities, while leaving intact its ban on gay adults and leaders. (Photo by Stewart House/Getty Images)
Former Boys Scout leader Jennifer Tyrrell, center, is greeted as her son and current Boy Scout Cruz Burns, 8, bottom, looks on during the Equal Scouting Summit being held near where the Boy Scouts of America are holding their annual meeting Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. Delegates to the Boys Scouts of America meeting are expected to address a proposal to allow gay scouts into the organization. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Boys Scout Alex Derr speaks out against anit-gay rules during the Equal Scouting Summit Press Conference being held near where the Boy Scouts of America are holding their annual meeting Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas. The boxes in front of Derr hold petitions calling for the Boy Scouts of America to end its anti-gay policies. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2013 file photo, from left, Joshua Kusterer, 12, Nach Mitschke, 6, and Wyatt Mitschke, 4, salute as they recite the pledge of allegiance during the ?Save Our Scouts? prayer vigil and rally against allowing gays in the organization in front of the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Under pressure over its long-standing ban on gays, the BSA announced Friday, April 19, 2013, that it will submit a proposal to its National Council to lift the ban for youth members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders. (AP Photo/Richard Rodriguez, File)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners