GRAPEVINE (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – In one of their most dramatic choices in a century, 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. The resolution passed with nearly 62% of the vote.
Casting ballots were about 1,400 voting members of BSA’s National Council who were attending their annual meeting the Gaylord Texan resort, not far from BSA headquarters in Irving.
At stake, was a proposal drafted by the BSA’s governing executive committee that says boys could no longer be excluded from Scouting solely on the basis of sexual orientation. A longstanding ban on gay adult leaders would remain in place.
Some conservative churches that sponsor Scout units wanted to continue excluding gay youths, and in some cases threatened to leave the BSA 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. If the full no-gays policy had been maintained, some units in liberal areas said they would consider either leaving the Scouts or openly defying the ban.
Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, was confident the proposal would pass.
“My two gay moms were both a part of my scouting experience when I was a kid, so I got to see first hand how loving, committed parents can be an effective part of the scouting experience,” said the former Eagle Scout before the final votes were tallied.
Wahls says Thursday’s outcome will not end the conversation because gay adult leaders are still banned.
“I got into this fight for my parents and I want to finish this fight for my parents,” he said.
Former den leaders like Greg Bourke and Jennifer Tyrell, who are openly gay and not welcome in the organization vowed to continue to fight as well.
“I look forward to the day that I don’t have to be lesbian den mother, I can just be den leader,” said Tyrell.
The Boy Scouts of America released the following statement to the media:
“For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.
Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.
Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.
This policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.
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. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.
While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America’s youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry expressed dismay with the decision, releasing a statement that said in part, “While I will always cherish my time as a Scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision.”
Conservatives with the Scouts — including some churches that sponsor Scout units — wanted to continue excluding gay youths. Some angry parents like John Stemburger, say the organization caved to societal pressure and announced plans to start a breakaway movement.
“We will discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys,” said Stemburger.
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.
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.
While the Southern Baptists were clearly upset by the vote to accept openly gay youth, the Mormon church reacted positively.
“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.
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