COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A proposed policy change by the Boy Scouts of America would allow local scouting chapters to decide for themselves whether to allow gay members.
BSA has long banned gay members, but a national trend against such discrimination is growing. Some corporations that have stopped donating to BSA because of the ban, believe that supporting it violates their own policies against discrimination.
"A lot of (scouting) laws deal with respect," said Charles Irwin, executive director of Colorado Springs Pride, a gay and lesbian organization. "I think this is more of an issue of being accepting, and not an issue about their sexual orientation. (Changes) would make the BSA stronger."
The Pikes Peak Council of Boy Scouts declined to comment on the issue, referring questions to the national office in Irving, Tex. The office and the Pride both released statements on the issue Monday (see below).
Irwin explained why local scouting chapters, as well as churches, civic groups and other scouting sponsors, have been silent on the issue.
"It probably has a lot to do with letting them see how it plays out in the media -- as unfortunate as that is -- because a lot of times, decisions are made to see how much of a problem this is going to create," he said.
Colorado Springs has in the past been considered a conservative, religious community that was less than welcoming toward the gay community. However, the city's recent ranking as the 13th-best gay community by a national survey apparently is an example of how attitudes are changing locally.
Still, the idea of gays in a traditional organization like the Boy Scouts, generates mixed feelings from the public.
"I have three brothers who were Eagle Scouts and it was so great for them," said Katie Clifford. "It breaks my heart a little bit that there are boys and or leaders who don't have the opportunity to be part of that."
"It depends on how they handle it," said Stone Strickland. "If they left it up to the populace, that's democracy, isn't it? If it's left up to the same people who made the decision for the national ban, then it really has no point."
"A lot of things have happened with the Boy Scouts in the past," said Pat Hofstedt, alluding to controversial allegations of sexual abuse by some scout leaders. "I just don't believe in what's going on with them."
According to some reports, BSA's proposed anti-gay policy change comes at a time when membership in the Cub Scouts, BSA's youngest division, dropped 3.4 percent last year, and membership in Venturers, a group for older teens, dropped 5.5 percent during the same period.
However, the number of Boy Scouts increased slightly last year. The organization was founded in 1910.
BSA did not provide a deadline for a final decision on changing its anti-gay policy.
Here is the statement from BSA:
"For more than 100 years, Scouting's focus has been on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
Here is the statement from Pride:
"Support for equality continues to grow in America, and today equality took yet another step forward with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to years of discrimination.
The Boy Scout ban is psychologically traumatizing to our youth because it forces gay scouts to hide their authentic selves and dictates their silence regarding who they are, especially if they are being bullied.
It furthermore stigmatizes the children of same sex couples, whose parents are prevented from being a part of their children's involvement in the Boy Scouts thus sending the message that they or their parents are second class citizens. That is dangerous, inaccurate and must end.
We look forward to the end of LGBT discrimination at the national level and encourage local scout groups to follow suit."