Boy Scouts of America proposal would end ban on gay youths, but keep ban on gay leaders

Published: Friday, April 19 2013 7:07 p.m. MDT

Under pressure over its longstanding ban on gays, the Boys Scouts of America is proposing to lift the ban for youth members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of national debate, the Boy Scouts of America on Friday announced it has prepared a resolution that would lift its longstanding ban on gay youth members.

Scouting officials said the resolution will go before the roughly 1,400 voting members of the organization's National Council during its meeting next month. The proposal calls for ending the practice of excluding openly gay youths from participating in Scouting, but would continue to bar gay adults from serving in leadership positions.

In a statement released Friday, Scouting officials said the organization had received an outpouring of feedback from across the nation and while opinions varied significantly, most individuals agreed that youths should not be denied the benefits of Scouting.

The statement also noted that the proposed resolution includes language reinforcing that Scouting is a youth program and that any sexual conduct by youths of Scouting age is contrary to the organization's virtues.

"America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation’s children," the statement said. "Throughout this process, we work to stay focused on that which unites us — reaching and serving young people to help them grow into good, strong citizens. Our priority remains to continue accomplishing incredible things for young people and the communities we serve."

The latest proposal follows months of national debate on the BSA's longstanding ban on openly gay members. The Boy Scouts of America's board of directors was scheduled to vote on the ban in January, but a decision was delayed to allow time for further study of the issue.

Since January, the BSA has come under fire from groups on both sides of the debate, with several organizations dropping or threatening to drop their sponsorship of the Scouting program. Last week, a bill was introduced in California's Legislature that would remove tax exemptions from groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation, which was interpreted by many as a move to pressure the Boy Scouts into lifting its ban.

While the proposal could be seen by some as a first step or compromise, others say it continues to send the wrong message about gay individuals. Bryce Sprosty, a 22-year-old Eagle Scout who grew up in Vernal, but now lives in Des Moines, Iowa, said he would like to see the current policy changed to allow gay scouts, but continuing to ban gay adults from leadership implies that gay individuals cannot be trusted around children.

"I think lifting the ban halfway like that, it still demonizes gay people," he said. "It sends the wrong message."

Sprosty, who is gay, said Scouting was one of his favorite activities growing up. But he said he would have been kicked out of the organization if he had made his sexual orientation known at the time, which he felt would have been detrimental to him as a teenager.

He said he would probably prefer no change at all instead of the resolution announced Friday by Scout leadership. By only partially lifting the ban, Sprosty said, it could make it harder in the future to make changes.

In March, a survey distributed by the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America found that 83 percent of local Boy Scout leaders oppose lifting the ban and 70 percent would either decrease or stop their participation in scouting if the current policy was changed.

At the time of the survey, Great Salt Lake Council Scout Executive Rick Barnes said he was not surprised by the level of opposition to a policy change but was surprised by the number of leaders who indicated they would decrease their participation in Scouting if the ban was lifted.

"We don't have a ban on homosexuals. We have a ban on open and avowed homosexuals," he said. "What we're saying is we're not the forum for this discussion."

On Friday, representatives of the Great Salt Lake Council said they would not be responding to media requests for comment.

Michael Purdy, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issued a statement on Friday that church leaders had received and were studying the resolution. The LDS church is the single-largest sponsor of Boy Scout units in the nation.

"Church leaders will take the time needed to fully review the language and study the implications of this new proposal," Purdy said Friday. "We note that BSA will make a final decision on this matter at their National Annual Meeting next month."

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