Starting on New Year's Day, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will accept openly gay youths, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation. But the policy adds, "No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation."
The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee, told The Associated Press that "isolated pockets" of problems are likely to surface, but overall he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.
Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA said it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.
Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders, according to extensive explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy distributed by the BSA.
On the issue of whether a Scout would be permitted to march in a gay pride parade, the BSA said that while each youth member was free as an individual to express thoughts or take action on political or social issues, members must "not use Scouting's official uniforms and insignia when doing so."
There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the United States. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA's exclusion of gay youth and gay adults.
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy, and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA.
However, massive defections have not materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties to their Scout troops.
"There hasn't been a whole lot of fallout," Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. told the AP. "If a church said they wouldn't work with us, we'd have a church right down the street say, 'We'll take the troop.'"
The Associated Press