GRAPEVINE, Texas – The Boy Scouts of America threw open its ranks Thursday to gay Scouts but not gay Scout leaders — a fiercely contested compromise that some warned could fracture the organization and lead to mass defections of members and donors.
Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.
“This has been a challenging chapter in our history,” the BSA chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote. “While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they’re in Scouting.”
However, the outcome will not end the bitter debate over the Scouts’ membership policy.
Liberal Scout leaders — while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth — have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
In contrast, conservatives with the Scouts — including some churches that sponsor Scout units — wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted.
“We are deeply saddened,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee after learning of the result. “Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.”
The Assemblies of God, another conservative denomination, said the policy change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.” It also warned that the change would make the BSA vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to end the ban on gay adults.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also expressed dismay.
“While I will always cherish my time as a Scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision,” he said.
The result was welcomed by many liberal members of the Scouting community and by gay-rights activists, though most of the praise was coupled with calls for ending the ban on gay adults.
“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, but until there’s a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue,” said Jennifer Tyrrell, whose ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because she is lesbian launched a national protest movement.
Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland, was elated by the outcome.
Tessier, who is openly gay, is on track to earn his Eagle Scout award and was concerned that his goal would be thwarted if the proposed change had been rejected.
“I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout,” Tessier said. “Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing.”
The vote followed what the BSA described as “the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history” to gauge opinions.
Back in January, the BSA executive committee had suggested a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to exclude them. However, the plan won little praise, and the BSA changed course after assessing responses to surveys sent out starting in February to members of the Scouting community.
Of the more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members who responded, 61 percent supported the current policy of excluding gays, while 34 percent opposed it. Most parents of young Scouts, as well as youth members themselves, opposed the ban.
The proposal approved Thursday was seen as a compromise, and the Scouts stressed that they would not condone sexual conduct by any Scout — gay or straight.
“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue,” the BSA said in a statement.
Since the executive committee just completed a lengthy review process, there were “no plans for further review on this matter,” the group added, indicating it would not be revisiting the ban on gay adults anytime soon.
Among those voting for the proposal to accept openly gay youth was Thomas Roberts, of Dawsonville, Ga., who serves on the board of a Scout council in northeast Georgia.
“It was a very hard decision for this organization,” he said. “I think ultimately it will be viewed as the right thing.”
The BSA’s overall “traditional youth membership” — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers — is now about 2.6 million, compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past. It also has about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers.
Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions.
Those include liberal churches opposed to any ban on gays, but some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have previously supported the broad ban — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
“We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner,” an official LDS statement said.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting responded cautiously, saying it would assess the possible impact of the change on Catholic-sponsored Scout units.
The BSA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
The Boy Scouts of America have reportedly voted 61-38 to allow gay Scouts.
According to multiple media sources, the scouting organization has chosen to eliminate sexual orientation as youth membership criterion. Under the new ruling, gay Scout leaders are still prohibited from serving.
More from the Associated Press:
By DAVID CRARY and NOMAAN MERCHANT, The Associated Press
GRAPEVINE, Texas — The Boy Scouts of America’s National Council has voted to ease a long-standing ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted as Scouts.
Of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal.
Under the proposal drafted by the Scouts’ governing board, gay adults will remain barred from serving as Scout leaders.
The outcome is unlikely to end a bitter debate over the Scouts’ membership policy.
Some conservative churches that sponsor Scout units wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted. More liberal Scout leaders – while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth – have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
We are covering this story and will update when we have the vote.
As 1,400 Boy Scouts of America delegates gathered Thursday to vote on a proposal to end the organization’s longstanding ban on gay youth, activists on both sides of the contentious issue ramped up the pressure.
A group opposed to allowing gay Scouts posted a call to prayer on its Facebook page – a sign of how large religion looms over the vote.
“Would you join us in a time of solemn prayer for our country and for the future of America’s youth? Please pray that He has mercy on the BSA and all of us,” read the post from On My Honor.
On Wednesday, the day before the vote, those in favor of ending the ban held a meeting across the street from the Boy Scouts’ annual conference in Grapevine, Texas.
“[T]his entire conversation comes down to one of the core values of leadership that is so often discussed but so difficult to actually execute: treating others the way we want to be treated,” Zach Wahls, a prominent activist against the ban, said in prepared remarks. “There is nothing Scout-like about exclusion of other people, and there is nothing Scout-like about putting your own religious beliefs before someone else’s.”
The ban on gay Scouts has been the subject of much soul-searching in the century-old organization – from local troops and councils to online petitions to national board meetings. The dispute was even heard by the Supreme Court, which said 13 years ago that as a private membership organization the BSA was free to decide who it would admit.
Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy after a two-year examination by a committee. Since then, some local chapters have been pushing for a reconsideration, and now the organization is considering a proposal that would end the ban on gay Scouts but still bar gay adult leaders.
More than 70 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by religious groups, and this compromise proposal has split them. One of the Southern Baptist Church leaders, Dr. Frank Page, last week implored the Boy Scouts not to change the policy.
But The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – the BSA’s biggest charter partner – has given tacit endorsement to the plan; the National Catholic Council on Scouting has yet to take a position. Perhaps one of the most important voices, BSA President Wayne Perry, on Wednesday wrote an op-ed in USA TODAY supporting the inclusion of gay boys.
“The BSA’s executive committee unanimously presented this resolution because it stays true to Scouting’s mission and remains focused on kids,” Perry wrote. “No matter what your opinion is on this issue, America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation’s children.”
The stakes are huge for the BSA, which boasts nearly 3 million youth participants. If the new membership guidelines are approved, it could drive some, perhaps many, to leave. But backers of change have pointed to declining enrollment numbers as a sign that the policy may already have led many to bid goodbye to the BSA.
Rusty Tisdale, assistant Scoutmaster for a troop in Ellisville, Miss., hopes there is a local option that would allow the decision on gay members to be made at the troop level. Otherwise, he will pull his kids.
“I’m not happy as a parent,” Tisdale emailed to NBC News. “The gay activist isn’t happy and will not be until homosexuals can be leaders, etc. So there will be more pressure, and more fighting, And more acquiescence. No thanks.”
“There are other activities for my kids to do,” he added. “There are other organizations that I can support with my time and money.”
Rob Hoitt, an Eagle Scout and an advisor to a “Venturing Crew” in the Metro Washington, D.C., area, said he gave a short talk Wednesday night to assure the youth in his group that he would be there for them, regardless of the outcome.
” … the mission of the BSA is to serve youth, and those who need us aren’t going anywhere,” he wrote in an email to NBC News. “In my tenure as a Scout leader, I’ve never removed a member on the basis of sexual preference, because according to BSA guidelines, I have no business inquiring. … Should a youth come to me with such matters, I would want to get them together with the right people to talk to who are best able to give them the help and answers they need. At the end of the day, my job is to make young people better. It always has been.”
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