The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

January 28, 2013

Scouts considering retreat from no-gays policy

NEW YORK — The Boy Scouts of America may soon give sponsors of troops the authority to decide whether to accept gays as Scouts and leaders — a potentially dramatic retreat from an exclusionary nationwide policy that has provoked relentless protests.

Under the change being discussed, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be allowed to decide for themselves how to address the issue — either maintaining an exclusion of gays, as is now required of all units, or opening up their membership.

Gay-rights activists were elated at the prospect of change, sensing another milestone to go along with recent advances for same-sex marriage and the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

However, Southern Baptist leaders — who consider homosexuality a sin — were furious about the possible change and said its approval might encourage Southern Baptist churches to support other boys’ organizations instead of the Boy Scouts.

Monday’s announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the no-gays policy — including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

Under the proposed change, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith, “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents.”

Smith said the change could be announced as early as next week, after the BSA’s national board concludes a regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 6. The meeting will be closed to the public.

The BSA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists. Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and that the BSA continues to view “Duty to God” as one of its basic principles.

Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.

More recently, pressure surfaced on the Scouts’ own national executive board. Two high-powered members — Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson — indicated they would try to work from within to change the membership policy, which stood in contrast to their own companies’ nondiscrimination policies.

Amid petition campaigns, shipping giant UPS Inc. and drug manufacturer Merck announced that they were halting donations from their charitable foundations to the Boy Scouts as long as the no-gays policy was in force.

Also, local Scout officials drew widespread criticism in recent months for ousting Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom, as a den leader of her son’s Cub Scout pack in Ohio and for refusing to approve an Eagle Scout application by Ryan Andresen, a California teen who came out as gay last fall.

Tyrrell said she is thrilled for parents and their children who’ve been excluded from Scouting and “for those who are in Scouts and hiding who they are.”

“For me, it’s not just about the Boy Scouts of America, it’s about equality,” she told The Associated Press. “This is a step toward equality in all aspects.”

Many of the protest campaigns, including one seeking Tyrrell’s reinstatement, have been waged with help from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from Scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay Scouts and Scout leaders is wrong,” said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD’s president. “Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect.”

The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy as recently as last year, and appeared to have strong backing from conservative religious denominations — notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists — which sponsor large numbers of Scout units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.

Before Monday’s announcement, the BSA conferred with some leaders of these religious groups, including the Rev. Frank Page, who leads the Southern Baptist Executive Committee.

According Roger S. Oldham, a spokesman for the executive committee, Page then wrote to the Scouts “expressing his tremendous dismay at the decision.”

If the Scouts proceed with the change, Oldham said, SBC leaders would likely issue a statement “expressing disappointed and encouraging our churches to support alternative boys organizations.”

Neither the Catholic Church nor the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued official statements as to how they would respond.

Said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The bishops hope the Boy Scouts will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded and under which they have served youth well.”

Smith, the BSA spokesman, said that if the change were adopted, “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 announcement came shortly after new data showed that membership in the Cub Scouts — the BSA’s biggest division — dropped sharply last year, and was down nearly 30 percent over the past 14 years.

According to figures provided by the organization, Cub Scout ranks dwindled by 3.4 percent, from 1,583,166 in 2011 to 1,528,673 in 2012. That’s down from 2.17 million in 1998.

The Boy Scouts attribute the decline largely to broad social changes, including the allure of video games and the proliferation of youth sports leagues and other options for after-school activities.

However, critics of the Scouts suggest that its recruitment efforts have been hampered by high-profile controversies — notably the court-ordered release of files dealing with sex abuse allegations and persistent protests over the no-gays policy.

The BSA’s overall “traditional youth membership” — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers — totaled 2,658,794 in 2012, compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past. There were 910,668 Boy Scouts last year, a tiny increase from 2011, while the ranks of Venturers — a program for youths 14 and older — declined by 5.5 percent.

In addition to flak over the no-gays policy, the Scouts have been buffeted by multiple court cases related to past allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders, including those chronicled in long-confidential records that are widely known as the “perversion files.”

Through various cases, the Scouts have been forced to reveal files dating from the 1960s to 1991. They detailed numerous cases in which abuse claims were made and Boy Scout officials never alerted authorities and sometimes actively sought to protect the accused.

The Scouts are now under a California court order, affirmed this month by the state Supreme Court, to turn over sex-abuse files from 1991 through 2011 to the lawyers for a former Scout who claims a leader molested him in 2007, when he was 13. It’s not clear how soon the files might become public.

The BSA has apologized for past lapses and cover-ups, and has stressed the steps taken to improve youth protection policies. Since 2010, for example, it has mandated that any suspected abuse be reported to police.

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041814capbus4.jpg Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

    For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes. He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department. Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.

    April 18, 2014

  • Kansas Regents stick with social media policy

    After directing a committee to study a controversial social media policy and make recommended changes, the Kansas Board of Regents appears to not be changing the policy at all. It’s left some in academia baffled by why it appointed the work group in the first place.

    April 18, 2014

  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • 041714 Treble Makers.jpg Carl Junction ‘Treble Makers’ to sing at Springfield Cardinals’ stadium

    Next month, 75 Carl Junction sixth-grade students will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Hammons Field before a Springfield Cardinals game. And with more than 600 parents, family members and other residents planning to attend, the May 3 event has been dubbed “Carl Junction Day.”

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Public hearing set on posed TIF district

    Financial details of a proposed new tax increment financing district for the Silver Creek Galleria area will be discussed in detail at an April 28 public hearing, members of the city’s TIF Commission were told Thursday. Chris Williams, a TIF attorney representing the city of Joplin, told the panel the Thursday meeting was intended to walk commissioners through the public hearing steps.

    April 17, 2014

  • Volunteer projects spark two bills in Jefferson City

    Bills moving through the Missouri House and Senate were inspired by a volunteer project in Carl Junction last year that stalled over a question of whether those volunteers had to be paid prevailing wage under Missouri law. “This bill is very simple. All it says is if someone is a volunteer, they won’t be forced to be paid prevailing wage,” state Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, told lawmakers during a hearing on his bill last week.

    April 17, 2014