With its ranks deeply divided, the Boy Scouts of America is asking its local leaders from across the country to decide whether its contentious membership policy should be overhauled so that openly gay boys can participate in Scout units.
The proposal to be put before the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council on Thursday, at a meeting in Grapevine, Texas, would retain the Scouts’ long-standing ban on gays serving in adult leadership positions.
Nonetheless, some conservatives within and outside the BSA community have denounced the proposal, saying the Scouts’ traditions would be undermined by the presence of openly gay youth. There have been warnings of mass defections if the ban is even partially lifted.
From the other flank, gay-rights supporters and some Scout leaders from politically liberal areas have welcomed the proposed change as a positive first step, but are calling on the BSA to go further and lift the ban on gay adults as well.
The Scouts’ national spokesman, Deron Smith, said the policy toward gays had become “the most complex and challenging issue” facing the BSA at a time when it is struggling to stem a steady drop in membership.
“Ultimately we can’t anticipate how people will vote but we do know that the result will not match everyone’s personal preference,” Smith said in an email.
In January, the BSA floated a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to exclude them. However, it changed course, in part because of surveys sent out starting in February to members of the Scouting community.
Of the more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members who responded, 61 percent supported the current policy of excluding gays, while 34 percent opposed it.