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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Scouts' proposal to lift gay ban divides Texans

Jayme Frase, Houston Chronicle
9:43 pm, Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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  • Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, who was ousted as a Cub Scout den mother because she is a lesbian, helps deliver petitions to the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Monday in Irving. Photo: Tony Gutierrez, STF / AP
    Jennifer Tyrrell of Bridgeport, Ohio, who was ousted as a Cub Scout den mother because she is a lesbian, helps deliver petitions to the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Monday in Irving. Photo: Tony Gutierrez, STF

 

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The announcement that the Boy Scouts of America might lift its ban on openly gay members and leaders has sparked debate stretching from the White House and state Capitol to local parents and troop leaders.

In a statement last week, the national organization said it might shift the policy choice to the local groups sponsoring individual troops and packs. Some expect the organization's National Executive Board to make an announcement Wednesday.

President Barack Obama said he supports ending the ban while Gov. Rick Perry said the policy should stay in place.

Scouts and their families delivered a petition Monday to the Scouts headquarters in Irving that urges ending the policy, saying it included 1.4 million signatures.

Faith groups, who sponsor nearly 70 percent of Scout units, are divided on their response.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more Scouts than any other religious denomination, has said it would wait until the policy actually changes to take a stance. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting has said the same. United Methodist leaders support the proposed local approach to the policy, which they say would allow troops to reflect their community and embrace the value of all individuals.

Financial pressures

The proposal comes as a surprise to some Scout supporters, who note that the organization affirmed the same policy last year and point to a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the group's right to maintain the policy.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the advocacy organization Texas Values, attributes the shift to financial pressures after several corporate donors, including the Intel Foundation and United Way, withdrew their funding.

"We don't think it's right for corporate America to try to shame them into betraying their principles," said Saenz, whose 6-year-old son participates in an Austin-area Cub Scout pack. "A private organization should not be picked on and bullied by people who don't share their values. If homosexuality advocates want homosexual Scouts they can start their own group."

The proposal to start a separate group for gay Scouts is offensive and echoes old arguments for racial segregation, said Desmond Bertrand, CEO of Houston's M.E.N. Incorporated that provides leadership training and support to young men regardless of sexual orientation.

"Boy Scouts has been an important part of our country, and making young men into men," Bertrand said. "I think that young gay men need that same type of leadership."

Tony May, who grew up in Houston Scout programs and now leads them in Beaumont, said the Scouts policy about homosexuality helps maintain the moral quality of leaders.

"You're supposed to lead by example," May said. "That's not the example we want to set in our community."

Although he hopes the national organization maintains a strong moral stance, he would accept the proposal to leave the decision up to local leaders. As a volunteer organization, he said Scout groups have always reflected the values and vision of those who dedicate their time.

Saenz, of Texas Values, thinks passing the decision down to local leaders would still be a mistake, even if they continued to ban gay members.

"The organization will end up crumbling because of this," he said, adding that he wondered if national Scout leaders would next side with atheists who call for the organization to remove references to God from its moral charter.

"There's a lot of concern about whether we'd have to check our religion at the door next," Saenz said.

No change foreseen

Father John Price of Houston's Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church said that although he hasn't discussed it with the other Scout leaders based out of his parish, he expects member would see no change even if national policy shifted.

Price said he already expects members not to be sexually active in Scout settings and with the family of Scout members, regardless of orientation.

"We want someone to act with honesty and integrity in all their dealings, sexual and otherwise," Price said. "I don't care what their sexuality is as long as they're good Scouts, working on their projects, earning their badges and not causing problems."

Ruby McCoy, who volunteers for her 14-year-old son's Scout troop in Pasadena, said its leaders will not do anything differently if national policy changes.

"We will keep letting these Boy Scouts grow into young men without a sexual orientation label," McCoy said.

"We all agree to have one main goal and that is to mold these boys into productive leaders in our community."