Scouts ready vote on gays BY CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
If you are openly gay, you can be neither a leader nor a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
That policy could change next month, when Scouting's national council votes on a recent proposal that would loosen the policy by allowing gay Scouts, but still ban gay leaders.
Three delegates from the local Pennsylvania Dutch Council will vote on that proposal at the national meeting to be held in Texas.
They have not yet decided how they will vote, but one delegate predicted that this may not be the end of the discussion.
Tim Efinger, of Manheim Township, said, "It's taken a long time for this issue to come in front of society. I don't know if this is going to be resolved with one vote.
"This is the first step but who knows what the results are going to be."
The local delegates will consider several factors in deciding their vote.
One is the results of a poll on the topic -- which showed local support for the current policy banning gay leaders and Scouts.
They also will consider comments from two recent local meetings of Scout leaders and parents, in which some urged more openness and others were decidedly against that.
Ultimately, the delegates will take direction from local council's board, which will meet shortly before the delegates leave for the meeting, to be held May 23-24.
Until then, none of the delegates is taking a position.
"I'm not going to vote my own personal preference," said Efinger, a Manheim Township man who is a former Scout and a current Scout leader. "I'm voting what the board instructs me to do."
And what that instruction will be even the board president doesn't know.
"What's going to come out of that meeting is certainly nothing that I can prognosticate," said Bob Anspach, a Lebanon man who is in his second year as board president and also is a delegate.
The third delegate, Paul Ware, of Lancaster, declined to comment because the council's board has not yet discussed the issue.
The council represents 5,600 Scouts in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. The three delegates will be among 1,400 expected to vote on the proposal at the national meeting.
Homosexuality is a controversial issue for the Boy Scouts, and one that local Scouting officials and volunteers also have been discussing vigorously in recent months and years.
Those discussions have spilled over into the community.
In 2011, a local United Church of Christ and its longtime Boy Scout troop agreed to part ways because of ideological differences over the membership policy. The UCC welcomes all people, including gays, and Grace United Church of Christ believed it wasn't the best organization to sponsor the troop. The split was an amicable one, both sides agreed.
In more recent months, the local Scout council held two community meetings -- one in Lancaster and one in Lebanon -- inviting Scout leaders and parents to discuss the membership policy.
Ed Rasmuson, Scout executive at the local council, said about 120 people attended the Lancaster meeting, held at the Farm and Home Center, and another 75 attended the Lebanon meeting.
"There were people who felt very passionately about both sides of the issue," he said, "those who didn't want any change and those who felt the policy should be changed and it was discriminatory."
At both meetings, however, the majority did not want to see any change to the current membership policy, he said.
That also was the local result of a national poll that went to more than a million people involved with Scouting.
Locally, 55.5 percent of council members polled either totally (47.6 percent) or somewhat (7.9 percent) supported the current policy banning gay Scouts and leaders.
Another 37 percent opposed the policy, either totally (24 percent) or somewhat (13 percent).
The issue is a polarizing one for many, Rasmuson said, but noted that people generally agree that a young person should not be denied the opportunity to be a Scout based on his sexuality.
Opinions on the issue also seem to divide people according to their ages, he said.
"Parents of younger children and kids themselves have less of a concern than older individuals," Rasmuson said.
He said he is not taking a stand and wants to remain focused on the council's mission of serving young people.
Continued from 1