Local response to Boy Scout ban lift unclear


Local response to Boy Scout ban lift unclear

10:33 a.m. PDT August 4, 2015

The Boy Scouts of America last week ended its longstanding blanket ban on gay scout leaders. The new policy, however, allows individual scout units to set their own policy regarding the issue.

It remains unclear how individual troops in Salem and Keizer will respond.

The Statesman Journal contacted multiple troops in the area asking them whether they will allow gay men to serve as troop leaders. Most troops did not respond.

Chuck McKay of Keizer Boy Scout Troop 105, which meets at St. Edwards Catholic Church, was the only troop coordinator to respond as of Thursday and said his troop has yet to make a definitive decision.

Matthew Devore of the Cascade Pacific Council in Portland said the council will follow the national policy. His council oversees multiple counties in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, including Marion and Polk counties.

“We are a local affiliate of a national organization and the national volunteer board creates policy. Therefore, we will follow the inclusive policy in our area as well, consistent with the national resolution. In our 18 county area, even with 11,000 volunteers and 21,000 youth involved with 1,200 local Scouting groups, we haven’t had a single issue related to orientation,” Devore said.

“Week in, week out, our fantastic volunteers focus on delivering high quality and values-based programs to youth. The topic of sexuality has no place in our program. (It has) not been an issue in our local programs at all. We encourage our youth and volunteers to treat people with respect and we are so blessed to have so many good people involved,” he added.

In an earlier statement, Devore said “this change (regarding the recent decision) allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”

Whatever decision is made, it could impact some 2,218 youths, 1,048 adult volunteers and 156 scouting groups involved with the Boy Scouts in the Salem-Keizer area.

Richard Ellis, a politics professor at Willamette University, said the national policy is not a win for either side of the debate.

Ellis, author of “Judging the Boy Scouts of America: Gay Rights, Freedom of Association and the Dale Case,” said those opposed to allowing gay men to lead in the organization see this as a step towards allowing gay men in entirely; whereas, those who are in favor of allowing gay men in the organization see this as an unsustainable solution that still allows discrimination.

“Nobody is happy with it,” he said.

“This policy could have made sense if it was done 25 years ago and it would have saved the organization a lot of grief,” Ellis said, since the issue has been one facing the organization for decades.

In January 2013, it was learned that the national organization was planning on giving churches and troop organizers the ability to make the decision.

“There was a tremendous push-back,” Ellis said. Many groups that were opposed to gay men in Boy Scout leadership, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Family Research Council, spoke up.

They paid for a full-page ad in USA Today that warned of the dangers of sex abuse that gay men posed to the troops.

The national Boy Scouts organization sent out an extensive survey after the push-back, in which there was an overwhelming lack of support from both sides to create a policy that put the decision on the individual troop level, Ellis said.

With the new policy, a young man could potentially be an openly gay youth in the organization, but might not be able to serve as a leader for the same troop when he is old enough.

The official policy was ratified last month by the organization’s 80-member board.

It was reported that during the Boy Scouts’ annual meeting last May, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, now the organization’s national president, said events of the past year “have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore.”

Such events include growing challenges to the policy from Boy Scout councils in New York and Colorado, as well as new state laws and court decisions barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

Visit http://www.scouting.org for more information on the Cascade Pacific Council’s policies and updated information on the recent decision by the National Executive Board. Additional information can be found at www.scoutingwire.org orwww.scoutingnewsroom.org.

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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