In a monumental policy shift, Boy Scouts of America started accepting gay scouts New Year’s Day after nearly 60 percent of the 1,400-member national voting council approved the policy change last spring.
“We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience. Effective Jan. 1, no youth may be denied membership in the BSA on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” Boy Scouts of America said in a news release immediately after the motion carried in early May. “The new policy allows kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing program while remaining true to the longstanding virtues of the Boy Scouts of America.”
Boy Scouts lost support and funding from various religious groups after making the announcement, including the Southern Baptist Convention. Religious organizations sponsor nearly 70 percent of nearly 110,000 BSA troops across the country. However, the main supporters of BSA with religious affiliations, the Roman Catholic Church and the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, pledged to keep ties with the organization intact.
Abundant Life Baptist Church in Washington said it terminated sponsorship of Pack 1315 in the Mingo Trails District, not because of the specific nature of the policy change, rather because the church agreed to host the troop only as long as the there were no changes in the existing policies of the BSA. The church chose not to renew its sponsorship of the troop in 2014.
“Our leaders were very straightforward with their leaders that if they changed any policies, we would no longer be able to sponsor them,” said Senior Pastor George Garancosky Jr. “There should have been no surprises when we terminated our sponsorship.”
Canonsburg native Dan Sullivan comes from a scouting family. Both of his parents gave countless hours to the organization as volunteers, while Dan and his older brother worked toward earning the rank of Eagle Scout. He became an Eagle Scout in 2008 with Troop 2 in Bridgeville after his brother, who is gay, earned the rank in 2003.
Sullivan said the BSA took a step in the right direction, but failed to address all the issues, especially the barring of openly gay adult leaders. This means Sullivan’s brother, a small business owner and an Eagle Scout, is not allowed to be a leader with Boy Scouts simply because he is openly gay. At a friend’s Eagle Scout ceremony in Washington this fall, Sullivan said most current and former Scouts agreed with the new anti-discrimination policy for youngsters. Sullivan said the discussions among Scouts reflect the debates and calls for increased tolerance in the Roman Catholic Church and in courtrooms across the country.
“You take the good with the bad, and this is a good start, but there’s a lot more to be done,” Sullivan said. “It looks like (BSA) kind of took the low road here, but this first move was something that was needed.”
The policy change affects nearly 2.6 million Scouts, but the organization expects no major changes. Boy Scouts of America policy of not allowing members to use Boy Scout uniforms and insignia for outside purposes extends to gay pride marches and other events. Additionally, Boy Scouts policy forbids the distribution of information of a sexual nature, regardless of sexual orientation.
BSA faces some issues in implementing the policy change but recommends local troops and camps arrange private shower times and locations, rather than group showers.
Lyndsey Sickler, director of the Pittsburgh Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said she expects only a few isolated incidents to occur. She praised the Boy Scouts of America for making a progressive change but said she wants to see more complete reform. She said she expects the policy to continue to evolve, especially with only a small amount of backlash caused by this policy change.
“There will be some awkwardness at first, sure,” she said. “But it’s up to the leaders and the parents to be advocates and make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.”
Amy Franz, the BSA Laurel Highlands Council director of development, said area troop leaders possess the tools to handle any potentially awkward situations.
“If any issues arise, we will be prepared,” she said.
Ted Sankey, a member of Troop 1005 in Washington, earned the Eagle Scout rank in 2009. At camps, Sankey said the topic of sexuality never arose. He does not think the new policy will be an issue as long as it doesn’t interfere with the values and goals of the BSA, namely to prepare boys to become productive men and leaders. Sankey explained that Cub Scouts transition to Boy Scouts at the age of 10 or 11, when they probably are not thinking much about their sexual orientation.
“At that age, they don’t know,” Sankey said. “They just want to be scouts.”
Franz said the policy change comes from the national board of directors, and the Laurel Highlands Council plans to follow the new rules accordingly. The BSA hopes the accepting policy allows more young men to join the organization without fear or apprehension.
“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,” said the Boy Scouts of America in its news release.