Washington area Boy Scout leaders should state their position on admitting gays

Columnist May 15, 2013

Boy Scouts pledge to be “brave” as the 10th point of the Scout Law. But the Washington area’s top Boy Scout leaders are showing no courage at all by refusing to take a public stand on whether to admit gays as youth members.

Our region’s Boy Scout council is one of the nation’s largest and most successful. It could play an influential role at next week’s national Boy Scout meeting in Texas, where the question is to be decided.

Robert McCartney is The Post’s senior regional correspondent, covering politics and policy in the greater Washington, D.C area. View Archive

Instead, the National Capital Area Council, known as NCAC, is ducking the issue. It won’t say how its 10 delegates are going to vote. It won’t even identify eight of them, only Council President Hugh Redd and Commissioner Ed Yarbrough.

“We all expected NCAC to lead, because that’s what the Boy Scouts are all about, leadership. Unfortunately, that’s not what we saw,” said Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, which has helped lead a national campaign to admit gays.

It’s only the most momentous membership decision to face the organization in a generation. Will the Boy Scouts finally take a big step toward catching up with the Girl Scouts, who formally barred discriminating against gays fully two decades ago?

The vote is on whether gays can be Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, which means through age 17. To placate those resisting the 21st century, gays would still be banned as adult members.

Several large councils have taken a public stand. Houston: Exclude gays. Minnesota’s Twin Cities: Admit them.

A group of local parents and Scouts, who favor admitting gays, has been pressing our council at least to say what it thinks.

“We realize this matter is controversial, but secretiveness is not a good strategy when something is controversial. We and others in Scouting think some accountability from our leaders is appropriate,” the group said in a May 8 letter to Redd.

Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. Indications suggest that while the local council is deeply divided on admitting gays, the top leadership has been generally opposed.

For instance, our council was singled out as an opponent of change in a report by the Boy Scouts’ Northeast Region .

“It is important to note that National Capital Area and more than a few other Councils prefer that no change take place at this time,” the report said.

The Northeast Region, which extends from Northern Virginia to Maine and from the Atlantic through Pennsylvania, strongly recommended admitting gays as both youths and adults.

The Washington area council says that it didn’t take a position and that the Northeast Region described its stance based on the region’s analysis of survey results.

The council has asked its 10 delegates to vote according to what they personally think is best for Scouting, according to Communications Director Aaron Chusid, the only person authorized to speak on the matter.

Chusid said the council doesn’t want to take sides publicly because the council is split, owing to political differences within our region. The council stretches from liberal Maryland counties such as Montgomery and Prince George’s to conservative Virginia ones such as Fauquier and Spotsylvania.

“Sometimes courage means being brave enough not to take action,” Chusid said. “We cover 17 counties across two states and the District, with highly distinct ethnic and cultural groups, and very different political points of view.”

That’s a considerably more cautious stance than the feisty one expressed in a February fundraising letter signed by the council’s top staff official, Scout Executive Les Baron.

The letter said the Boy Scouts “have standards and we’re not afraid to stand up for them.”

Although Baron’s letter didn’t explicitly mention the issue, it was unmistakably an appeal for contributions to offset a decline in big companies’ donations owing to the controversy over discrimination against gays.

“There are powerful and well-funded interest groups that are seeking to bring the Boy Scouts down — all because we will not compromise our principles. One by one, our corporate sponsors have withdrawn their support because of pressure from these outside groups,” the letter said.

Chusid portrayed the letter as unfortunately timed. “It was definitely something that muddied the waters but was not a statement of position,” the spokesman said.

Such backpedaling doesn’t reflect the lessons I learned in six wonderful years as a Boy Scout in the late 1960s. The decision on gays is historic. To be true to Scouting’s ideals, our local leaders should be brave enough to say where they stand and suffer any consequences.

For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.
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