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'We're here to serve all boys,' Utah Scout executive says

Published: Monday, May 20 2013 6:20 p.m. MDT

The Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America is asking BSA leaders for more time to consider the possible consequences of the national organization’s proposed move to eliminate restrictions on admitting gay Scouts and Scout leaders.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 40 local Scouting leaders will participate this week in a historic vote on a new Boy Scouts of America membership policy.

Fifteen representatives from the Great Salt Lake Council, 10 from the Trapper Trails Council and 17 from the Utah National Parks Council will take part in the organization's national meetings in Grapevine, Texas, according to council representatives.

The meetings, which run Wednesday through Friday, is expected to include a vote on a new membership policy that says no youths may be denied membership solely on the basis of sexual orientation.

"This is the first time our national council representatives have had an opportunity to vote on an issue like this," Great Salt Lake Council executive Rick Barnes said. "All 15 of our voters are planning on attending."

All of the voting representatives from the Salt Lake region are unpaid volunteer officers of the Great Salt Lake Council, Barnes said. Last week, the council unanimously voted to encourage each representative to vote their conscience on the membership policy in lieu of a unified position.

Utah's three Scouting councils declined to disclose the identities of the voting representatives, saying that national Boy Scouts of America bylaws do not allow for that information to be shared.

"Voters are kept confidential," Barnes said. "We don’t release who they are to the public."

The membership resolution represents a change to a current and longstanding Boy Scouts of America policy that bars openly gay youths and adults from participating in Scouting. Under the new policy, openly gay adults would not be allowed to serve in volunteer and leadership positions, but youth members who otherwise adhere to Scouting's behavioral standards would be permitted regardless of sexual orientation.

The resolution reiterates that "any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

Independent of the action taken by the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council, local Scouting councils will support the national organization and continue to extend the benefits of Scouting to all boys, Barnes said.

"Even if it does change, our focus will remain on the boys," he said. "We’re here to serve all boys, just like we’ve always been."

Nationwide, the policy proposal has prompted divisive reactions, including among Scouting groups. Many view the resolution as a positive compromise, while others seek greater changes.

Last week, the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement urging a "true and authentic inclusion policy" that would welcome openly gay adults into the ranks of Scouting leaders and volunteers.

Similar concerns were raised by at least two Scouting branches based in New York state, according to Yahoo News.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the nation's largest sponsor of Scouting units, released a statement expressing satisfaction with the Boy Scouts' good-faith efforts to address issues that are "among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today."

In March, a survey conducted by the Great Salt Lake Council found that 83 percent of local Boy Scout leaders opposed lifting the ban on openly gay individuals, and 70 percent of leaders would either decrease or stop their participation in Scouting if the current policy were changed.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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