The Boy Scouts of America’s moral compass is being questioned after a recent decision to open its membership to youth of all sexual orientations.
Across the nation, parents and supporters of the BSA are either cutting ties or strengthening them following the May 23 decision. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, policies will stretch to Boy Scouts groups everywhere, including Sequim, as the organization implements the change.
Sharon Moulds, Scout executive of the Chief Seattle Council, which oversees the Mount Olympus District and its 51 groups, including Sequim’s 14 units and 350-plus youths, said she doesn’t know what the ramifications will be.
“I expect that we will lose some people and possibly some units, but don’t know who or how many,” she said.
In her Boy Scouts blog, Moulds addressed those who are unhappy with the decision:
“We currently have gay youth in Scouting; they have just had to hide it under the old policy. The new policy does not allow for advocacy of any sexual orientation, so essentially nothing has changed,” she wrote.
“Gay youth are not youth we need to be concerned about; they are young people who are friends with your children, they are good students, they attend church and they enjoy camping, hiking and working on merit badges. Don’t they deserve Scouting, too?”
Rich Butchart, the Mount Olympus district commissioner, said he hasn’t heard any response from local groups in support or opposition.
“We’re here to develop two things — character and leadership quality — two things badly needed in our country,” he said.
“This is more like people playing political football over us while we do the real work. It’s not like in Scouting you need to tell us your sexual orientation. The real important things get lost in these squabbles up at the top.”
“The reality is, we’re about helping boys,” Butchart said. “In my 40 years of Scouting, I never once had a boy tell me he was gay, straight or otherwise. It’s more of an adult thing.”
Badge of change
While the policy won’t be in place for nearly six months, Butchart said charter agencies, the BSA’s local sponsors, can continue or disband support.
“The ruling is there’s nothing here that forces a Rotary club or church to accept it,” he said.
So far, one Washington church, Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Bremerton, has pulled its support for its BSA troop. However, the troop doesn’t appear to be in danger of disbanding. That’s up to the charter agency, the Knights of Columbus.
Jesse Pacem, a volunteer with Scouts for Equality who serves as council coordinator for the Chief Seattle Council, said he and others nationwide are monitoring to see if Scout groups are in danger of disbanding and if so, helping those Scouts find new groups in their areas. He hasn’t heard any reports about Mount Olympus but the troop in Bremerton is likely to find a new host.
Pacem said the largest church in Louisville, Ky., where more than 300 Scouts attended meetings, disbanded its Scouting programs after church leaders voted to stop its affiliation due to a moral/scriptural difference with BSA’s decision.
“One of our members spoke to the council executive there and nine churches stepped in to give these boys a home,” Pacem said. “I’m hopeful for as few departures from Scouting as possible and more people will be encouraged to participate.”
In Sequim, support seems the same as before.
Dick Hughes, New Generations chairman for the Rotary Club of Sequim (noon), said the group will continue to support Cub Scout Pack 4490 and Boy Scout Troop 90.
“It’s been a non-issue,” he said. “No one has brought it up.”
The Rev. Bill Green at Trinity United Methodist Church, which hosts Troop 90, said they simply host the group and don’t deal with its operations.
“It’s always been about the boys,” Green said. “What we consider here are from-inside issues and won’t keep us from supporting the troop.”
Michael Cobb, Scoutmaster for BSA Troop 1492, said they aren’t anticipating any changes to its attendance and meeting location in Sequim Community Church.
Officials with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which hosts and charters Troop 1491, plan to continue support for the Scouts, too.
Church groups like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a national statement saying they’ll continue to move forward with the BSA.
Their stance comes from the booklet “For the Strength of Youth” to maintain sexual abstinence regardless of sexual orientation, which corresponds with the BSA’s beliefs through its Scout Law and Scout Oath.
Butchart said the oath and law still stand under the new policy and the oath’s statement “To keep myself … morally straight” doesn’t carry the contemporary connotation of “straight” and that the Scouts aren’t engaged in such sexual behaviors anyway.
Jeff Hall, assistant Mount Olympus district commissioner and a leader with Troop 1103, which is sponsored by the Dungeness Ward, said he doesn’t anticipate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moving away from BSA, particularly in Sequim, which houses nine groups in the church.
“Knowing the mission of the church, I don’t think the church will change the way we approach Scouting,” he said. “The church believes in the Scout programming to help youth identify who they are.”
How the new policy is going to be implemented at the local level is yet to be determined.
Moulds said they are waiting for the national organization’s committees to discuss and decide how to implement it before the Jan. 1 deadline.
First aid, emergency preparedness and swimming are some of the basic topics a Scoutmaster must know, but Karl Wood, Scoutmaster for Troop 90, said sexuality is not a part of the training he received.
If a boy were to come out to him, Wood said he’s not sure how he would talk to him because of laws with protection and safety on sexual matters.
“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and I’m still at a loss,” he said. “We’ll have to come through some training for what we’re supposed to do and proceed with youth protection statements.”
BSA has promised to answer several inconsistencies in the policy, Pacem said.
One example is what happens to an openly gay boy when he turns 18 and applies to be an adult leader in the troop as a merit badge counselor or assistant Scoutmaster.
“There are implementation questions out there among the staff, so they are working to share implementation guidance to clarify these hard-to-address questions,” Pacem said.
“There may be some openly gay Eagle Scout boys kicked out of program at 18, which might help people to recognize the inconsistencies with the policy.”
Initially, local leaders said last December it appeared BSA might vote to allow homosexual leaders, but it didn’t happen.
Part of Scouts for Equality’s mission is advocating for inclusion of homosexual youths and adults into the Scouting program, Pacem said.
He’s not sure either when or if BSA will discuss or vote on whether to include or continue to exclude adult homosexual volunteers.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Since they reaffirmed policy at around this time last year, I don’t think I would have come out for the change to come so quickly for youth. I hope it changes for adults, but it’s hard to tell.”
Wood said he believed BSA would become completely co-ed before they revised their sexuality policy.
“I still see it in the foreseeable future for the Boy Scouts to be a full co-ed program,” he said.
Right now, BSA’s co-ed Venture program allows girls and boys to join after completing the eighth grade or at 14. Wood said it’s been the basis since its inception in 1991 to see how to incorporate girls into the rest of the programs.
As for allowing openly homosexual leaders, Butchart said it always will be a part of the discussion.