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Boy Scout troops may fold rather than allow openly gay members

The leader of the Middle Tennessee’s Boy Scouts said many Williamson County charters might choose to fold should the Boy Scouts of America decide to open its membership to openly gay scouts and scoutmasters this spring. 

Over the course of its 103-year history, the Boy Scouts of America has operated under a policy that prohibits openly gay persons from becoming members. 

“We are about serving children, making the community a better place and upholding the ‘Boy Scout Handbook,’ which does not address sexuality,” said Hugh Travis, Middle Tennessee Council scout executive. 

The organization is currently surveying its national membership base to gauge the possible fallout should the group broaden its membership policy to include homosexuals. This debate swells as the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case that may ultimately determine whether the definition of “marriage” should include same-sex couples. 

According to Travis, surveys show that “about 95 percent” of about 4,000 scouting partners in Middle Tennessee want the policy to remain the same, which prohibits homosexuals from becoming members. Should the national BSA adopt a new policy that would allow gay scouts as members, Travis estimates that up to 40 percent of charter partners in Middle Tennessee would revoke their charters. Most of those who would do so are faith-based institutions, he said. 

“They don’t want that responsibility, and, if forced, they will give up their charter,” Travis said. “They fear being sued by activist groups, and lawsuits will eat up their already limited funds, which 
are used to help people. They fear the legal ramifications.”

The Association of Baptists for Scouting is openly opposed to changing the current policy.

“The general feeling is that this is a bad move on the part of BSA and may precipitate a major crisis in how Baptists relate to the Boy Scouts of America,” said A.J. Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting in a letter outlining the position of the organization on the issue. 

“I predict that many Baptist groups would drop scouting as a ministry,” Smith told the Williamson Herald. “I am getting many questions if there will be alternatives to scouting programs in the case that our members are no longer able to morally align themselves with BSA.”

One group advocating for a change in the BSA membership policy is Scouts for Equality, founded in June 2012 by five eagle scouts who are straight advocates for the gay community. 

“These gay Scouts have to be very diligent about not disclosing who they are. They live in constant fear of being thrown out of a program,” said Brad Hankins, national campaign director of Scouts for Equality, who lives in Tennessee. “The current policy shames them into believing that they are less than their fellow straight scouts, who also want their gay friends included.

“We are absolutely not advocating for any misconduct in scouting,” Hankins said. “Sex always has, and should continue to be, for adults only. In adolescence, they come to terms with who they are, and the fact that the program that they love tells them that they are not good enough, is morally reprehensible.”

Representatives from across the country will cast their vote May 23 at the BSA annual meeting.

Posted on: 3/28/2013


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