The governing board of the Boy Scouts of America on Friday recommended ending the organization’s ban on openly gay Scouts but keeping its prohibition on gay troop leaders. The proposal displeased advocates on both sides and ensured a new flurry of lobbying before the larger national body votes on the matter at its annual meeting next month.
The executive committee’s resolution follows a year of shifting signals from the massive youth organization as it tries to finds its place in a nation where views on homosexuality are changing fast but remain polarized. Last summer, the group reaffirmed its ban on openly gay Scouts and leaders; then, in February, it said it was revisiting the subject amid pressure from some board members, corporate sponsors and families. Polling from the organization released Friday showed deep division remains in the Scouting community.
“While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting,” the committee, headquartered in Texas, said in a statement. The resolution states that sexual activity by any youth “of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
It’s unclear whether the full 1,400-member National Council will approve the executive committee’s recommendation when it gathers the week of May 20. The council consists of local and regional Scouting representatives, including both youths and adults, as well as at-large members and the all-volunteer executive committee that is charged with governing the national organization.
Scout officials had said in recent weeks that they were considering letting local Scout groups adopt their own position, so Friday’s proposal surprised even those who had been closely watching the issue. Across the board, people voiced varying degrees of disappointment and said they would keep pushing for their point of view.
“All along, I knew they’d tried to split the baby on this. They have the risk of alienating everyone,” said Cathy Stocker, a den leader of Cub Scout Pack 56 in Bethesda.
Still, she said: “I’m encouraged because this is in the right direction. My husband is a war veteran, and we understand it’s difficult for very large organizations to change, in any way. If the U.S. military can do it, the Boy Scouts can do it.”
A national group of parents and Scouts who want to keep the ban put out a statement saying the Boy Scouts had caved in to “outside pressure.”
“When it comes to young boys, parents should still have the final say on the issues of sexuality and politics,” said John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout and founder of OnMyHonor.Net, which he said had received donations from thousands of people. “The cleverly-worded resolution tries to dodge criticism from gay activists but still creates a myriad of problems for how to manage and ensure the safety of the boys in the program.”
Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, a large gay rights advocacy group, said the resolution, while promising in its flexibility, “must go further” to allow gay Scout leaders.
“Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans,” he said. “What message does this resolution send to the gay Eagle Scout who, as an adult, wants to continue a lifetime of Scouting by becoming a troop leader?”
Some religious groups were cautious in their response. More than 70 percent of troops are chartered by faith-based groups. The Scouts said in February that their shift to reconsider the ban was led in part by people who said the ban violated their religious beliefs.
The Mormon Church, the largest single organization that charters Scout troops, was not included in the polling data the Scouts released about how religious groups feel about the ban.
Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the church, said in a statement that Mormon “leaders will take the time needed to fully review the language and study the implications of this new proposal.” He noted a final decision won’t be made until next month.
Nearly two-thirds of Mormons — 65 percent — said homosexuality should be discouraged by society in a 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. By contrast, just 33 percent of the public said it should.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, have opposed any change and have said that many troops may leave the Scouts if it is lifted. Convention spokesman Roger Oldham said the proposal is better than the possibility the Scouts had raised earlier this year of lifting the ban on men and boys and letting each community make up its own mind. “But once you open the door for this kind of change it’s usually a first step, it’s not a last step. There is a broad-based concern,” Oldham said.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting did not respond immediately to a request for comment, nor did a spokesman for the region’s largest mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, which has a large Scouting program.
The Scouts released polling showing how divided the massive Scouting community is on the topic — though numbers are shifting.
In 2010, according to Scout polling, 57 percent of Scout parents supported the ban. Today, 48 percent do.
Research on religious organizations that charter troops showed that “their concern is with homosexual adult leaders and not with youth,” the Scouts said. The group said its research showed a lifting of the ban on men and boys would cause membership losses “in a range from 100,000 to 350,000.” It also would gain the organization 10,000 to 20,000 new youths, the Scout research said.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.