D.C. area Boy Scout leaders react to new membership policy

As hundreds of Boy Scouts gathered in Washington on Saturday to inaugurate an urban trail that celebrates their history, troop leaders and parents reflected on how a recent decision to include openly gay youths will affect Scouting’s future.

Some welcomed the change as long overdue and expressed pride in the organization after they had spent years apologizing for a policy they considered discriminatory.

“We are thrilled by the decision,” said Don Beckham, Scoutmaster for Troop 52 of Chevy Chase, which pushed hard for the change. “We think this is all part of Boy Scouts history.”

Beckham said Scouting is built on a tradition of inclusiveness. A century ago, he pointed out, it was members of Troop 52 who provided security for suffrage marchers in Washington, stepping in to do a job that D.C. police had refused.

“There’s still work to be done,” said parent Liz Adams, who said she was disappointed that the Scouts declined to end their prohibition on gay troop leaders. “But for now, we’re celebrating this victory.”

Troop 52 Scout Toby Robinson, 14, said he, too, hopes that gay adults will soon be allowed to participate. But Robinson said he’s pleased that his fellow Scout Pascal Tessier will be allowed to attain the high rank of Eagle Scout. Tessier, who is openly gay, had been told that he couldn’t become an Eagle because of his sexuality.

Others said they regard the new membership rules as a sign that the Scouts’ century-old values are eroding under pressure to be politically correct. Some parents said they are grappling with whether to continue participating in Scouting now that the organization will be welcoming gay youths.

“We do our best to protect all our children, and one of the ways we keep them safe is to keep them away from this type of group,” said Betty Alfaro, a parent in Silver Spring’s Troop 440, who described the new policy as a violation of her Christian values and a possible threat to her son.

Christy Jones, also a Troop 440 parent, said she was still wrestling with how to talk with her son about the policy change. “Morally, as a Christian, I don’t believe it’s right. I don’t want to see it promoted as okay,” she said of homosexuality. “But I still want to love and accept Scouts that are dealing with that.”

Still others wondered about sleeping arrangements on camping trips — would an openly gay teen be allowed to sleep in a tent with other boys? — and other logistical implications of the new policy.

“It’s just one more level of complexity,” said Jerry Beaulieu, Scoutmaster of Troop 944 from Rockville. “We’ll have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Aaron Chusid, a spokesman for the National Capital Area Council of Scouts, which oversees hundreds of troops from Frederick to Fredericksburg, said he is not aware of any local troops that have decided to leave Scouting because of the new membership policy.

The new six-mile urban trail includes a scavenger hunt that begins in Woodley Park and ends on the Mall, introducing Scouts to their past through landmarks along the way. Peter Bialek, the council’s unofficial historian and developer of the History of Scouting Trail, said the membership-policy hullabaloo is far more important to adults than to most kids.

“I think the Scouts are interested in just doing Scouting,” he said.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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