Boy Scouting community divided over news that national group may lift ban on gays
By Michelle Boorstein and Annie Gowen,
News on Monday that the Boy Scouts may lift its ban on openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders immediately divided the country’s massive Scouting community, with some families saying they would yank their sons from troops while others said such a decision could lead them to rejoin.
The issue has weighed heavily for years on the Boy Scouts, one of the country’s largest youth organizations, and just seven months ago it affirmed its policy of banning gay members after studying the issue for two years. But some members and sponsors reacted strongly — including those who said their faith compels them to accept openly gay people — and Monday the group said the national executive board would take up the possibility of lifting the mandatory ban at a regular meeting the first week in February. A vote is likely on Feb. 6.
With more than 2.6 million boys involved in Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, the impact was felt widely. And intimately.
For Rob Schwarzwalder, whose 15-year-old twins have been in Scouts in Springfield for a decade, the possibility of openly gay troop leaders or troops was maddening and would probably mean the end of an activity that has shaped his sons’ boyhoods.
“There would be a large number of troops who will leave if this goes forward,” said Schwarzwalder, of Alexandria. “The Boy Scouts are private; no one is compelled to join it. If [there are] those who feel so strongly about having open homosexuals in Scouting, why not have the moral courage to start their own troops and not apply pressure to a group that does so much for so many?”
But for Hunter Kalat of Bethesda, the end of the ban could mean his return to Cub Scout Pack 56. The 9-year-old decided last summer to quit after the Scouts reaffirmed the ban, which limited the involvement of his married mothers, Karen Kalat, 43, and Jenny Allen, 44.
On Monday, Hunter said his decision last year was a good one, even though he had been looking forward to a fall camping trip and building a Halloween haunted house with his group.
Karen Kalat said Monday that she was “surprised and delighted” by the possibility that the inclusion of open gays and lesbians would be up to the local civic or church organizations that sponsor troops.
“I think great pressure has been put on them, and they have to back off,” she said of the national organization. But she and her wife hadn’t decided Monday whether they would let Hunter rejoin.
Patrick Boyle, a Huffington Post blogger on fathering issues and the author of “Scouts’ Honor: Sexual Abuse in America’s Most Trusted Institution,” said the reaffirmation of the ban on gays and lesbians last summer had “a boomerang effect,” drawing renewed attention to the issue. Several big backers — including Intel, UPS and local United Way chapters — dropped their financial support, and a growing number of organizations that sponsor troops openly objected to the ban, he said.
“From the outside it looks like a business decision,” Boyle said. “They had several funders cutting and dropping funding because of the issue and more Scouts and more unit sponsors openly challenging them. . . . It’s one thing getting grief from gay advocates and another thing when your friends turn against you.
“The tide has been turning against them even with their own constituents, and they realize they’re in danger of ending up on the wrong side of history on this,” Boyle said.
Seventy percent of the groups that charter troops are faith-based, but their beliefs vary widely. While religious traditionalists are allied in opposing gay and lesbian relationships, more religious Americans say their faith requires them to be inclusive.
Asked why the organization was considering reopening the issue, national spokesman Deron Smith said the Boy Scouts makes decisions in “dialogue with the Scouting family.” Some 150 million people were once Scouts.
“Last year Scouting realized the policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations which oversee and deliver the program to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs,” he said, noting that no chartering group would be required to embrace gay members.
But opponents of the switch noted that troops often do events with other troops.
The potential impact of a policy change on troops in the Washington region was not clear.
A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said officials weren’t sure what they would do about the three-quarters of their 68 parishes that host troops.
“The clarity and courage of the Boy Scouts of America over the years in the face of considerable cultural, political and legal pressure has been a blessing,” said Michael Donohue. “Obviously, any substantive changes in the mission or policies of the Boy Scouts of America would require the church’s careful consideration,” Michael Donohue said. The Mormon Church is a major sponsor of troops, and a spokesman said Monday that “until we are formally notified that it has done so, it would be inappropriate for the Church to comment.”
Elizabeth Tenety and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.