The Boy Scouts of America may allow gays to be members and scout leaders if a vote passes in their national meeting on Feb. 6, ending a debate that has been brewing for over a decade.
Brad Harris, a recreation management professor who worked for the Boy Scouts professionally from 1981 to 2003, said this issue has been ongoing since 2000.
In the case Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, the Supreme Court ruled that the organization has a constitutional right to exclude avowed homosexuals in their membership, similar to a country club deciding who is allowed to join. The decision, while a relief to some, generated some ill will towards the organization.
“There were people that thought it was a good idea and people that just thought the boy scouts were going to be in trouble. Some people stopped sending money, membership declined a little bit, some schools wouldn’t let the boy scouts come in to recruit,” Harris said.
While the current policy bans all openly gay boys and men from participating in scouting, the new policy would leave it up to the chartered organizations. This means that individual troops that belong to a church, school or rotary club will determine whether or not their troop will allow avowed homosexuals to participate in scouting.
Harris acknowledged that a concern of parents is that this new policy may, if adopted by chartered organizations, increase the risk of predatory acts on young scouts, but he said married men were the predators in the cases he testified in while working for the organization.
“We have this false perception of gay men as these predators walking around, and there are some I’m sure, but we think that because they’re gay they’re after our little boys. There’s just no track record to prove that,” Harris said.
Harris also said that the men do not just become leaders by signing up. They have to go through a background check, which they will fail if they have any kind of criminal record. He also said that most chartered organizations question the motives if a single man has a distinct interest in being a scout leader and that most often scout masters are related to boys in the troop.
Even at BYU there are a variety of opinions.
Dominic Bills, a theatre arts studies major from Spanish Fork who participated in scouting, is in full support of the policy.
“I’ve been reading up on this and thinking about the new issue, and I definitely agreed that it’s a good thing to be more inclusive as an organization. It still allows a lot of freedom,” Bills said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Sam Hales, an Eagle Scout from Olympia, Wash., who is concerned about what kind of example a gay man as a scout master could have on a troop.
“Your scout master is someone you really look up to a lot of the time and who can really influence your life, and so if there’s someone you know is gay and they’re open about it, you could have scouts that are aspiring to that,” Hales said.
David Allen, an Eagle Scout from Albany, Ore., thinks that including boys struggling to overcome same-sex attraction in scouting may be helpful to them.
“From a church standpoint, I think it would be good to have the option to include them based on different circumstances,” Allen said.
While there are a variety of opinions and concerns, Harris, who spent 22 years working for the organization as a professional, supports the policy.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Harris said. “I think it’s time that we do this.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not yet made a statement regarding the announcement of the potential policy change.