Mixed reaction on gays in Scout ranks
National decision coming this week. By Jon Rutter, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Boyer and his wife, Beth, were watching TV last week when a newscaster dropped a bombshell:
The Boy Scouts of America is considering welcoming openly gay members and leaders.
"We were shocked," said Boyer, a former Brunnerville Troop 156 Scout leader in Lititz. No such policy reversal, he said, had previously "shot up on the radar."
According to a BSA statement released Monday, the various religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout groups would decide for themselves whether to open up membership to gays.
A change could be announced as early as Wednesday, after the regularly scheduled BSA national board meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gay-rights activists and financial backers have pushed BSA to admit gays –– but it would be a seismic policy shift for an organization that went to the Supreme Court 13 years ago to get its right to ban gays affirmed.
The new idea sparked both acceptance and resistance locally.
"The feedback we've gotten here is mixed," said Ed Rasmuson, a Lancaster scouting executive with the BSA Pennsylvania Dutch Council, which represents 5,600 scouts in Lancaster and Lebanon counties.
"There are individuals who are very supportive," Rasmuson said, "and there are individuals who have serious concerns about it."
Don Steller falls somewhere in between.
Steller is the Bareville-Leola-Leacock Lions Club liaison to Troop 54 and Cub Scout Pack 54.
"The thing I would be against would be a Scout leader who is gay," said Steller, who is 78 and a former Troop 54 Scout himself.
"But the boys themselves," he added, "I don't think they should be excluded," especially the younger children who might not yet know their sexual orientation.
"We have never as far as I know excluded anybody" from being a Scout, Steller said.
Members of the 86-year-old club have not yet talked about the issue, said Steller, who noted he was expressing personal views.
However, he added, many club members also belong to his church, Salem Evangelical Reform Church, and are likely to be on the same page about accepting gay Scout leaders.
Salem was started by former United Church of Christ members who broke from the denomination over the UCC's pro-gay marriage and gay clergy doctrine.
"It's a touchy subject," Steller said.
Several people contacted for this story were reluctant to comment on the BSA move.
A woman with ties to Cub Scout Pack 154 at Lititz Church of the Brethren said the issue was too new and "has actually not been discussed as far as I know."
"I really don't have a say in it or anything to say about it," she added, saying she preferred to remain anonymous.
According to BSA, religious groups support about 70 percent of scout troops nationally.
Stances on homosexuality vary among –– and within –– denominations.
In recent years, some UCC congregations –– including Grace UCC in Lancaster –– have cut ties with troops over the BSA ban on gays.
So have some United Methodist and Unitarian Universalist churches and Reform Judaism groups.
The Roman Catholic Church, which officially opposes same-sex relationships, has long been a big supporter of Boy Scout troops.
Calls to St. James Catholic Church in Lititz (Troop 142) and St. Philip the Apostle Church in Millersville (Cub Scout Pack 268) were not immediately returned last week.
However, Joe Aponick, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, said Catholicism encourages tolerance of gay people.
"The church teaches that the sin (of acting on homosexual impulses) is the issue," Aponick said. "It's not the fact of being gay."
He declined to discuss how a change in BSA doctrine might affect local Catholic-sponsored troops, saying it would be "speculation."
"We haven't heard anything specific about what's coming down yet," Aponick said. "We'll have to see what happens at the national level."
Meanwhile, he added, the diocese will continue to follow the current BSA lead.
"Where things sit now is the national policy from the Boy Scouts does not allow gays in the organization or to take part, and so we abide by that."
Officials at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, which sponsors Cub Scout Pack 44 in Lititz, said without hesitation that they are open to the proposed BSA transition.
"All are welcome here," Pastor James Gibble said in a statement relayed by church employee Susan Faulkner. "We have no problem with gays being in Boy Scouts."
Some Scouts and their families in other parts of the country have downplayed the impact of a possible softening of the BSA line toward gays.
They say many troops already ignore the existing policy.
But people here aren't necessarily flouting the rules, said Boyer, the Troop 156 leader.
"It would be quite a surprise in the troops I know if anybody would allow it under the table," added Boyer, who cut back his involvement in the troop after a serious motorcycle accident last spring.
His wife remains as troop treasurer.
Boyer said a BSA policy shift could prove awkward if councils or even individual parents within a troop break ranks over gay Scout leaders.
Scouting camporees and jamborees bring together thousands of Scouts who would lack a consistent philosophy, he said.
But on one important level, Rasmuson said, they'd still be hiking the same trail.
Scouting is about teaching values and character, Rasmuson said. Whatever the national organization decides, "I would expect our Scouts to be respectful and tolerant" of all others. n