Boy Scouts To Decide Whether To Admit Gay Youth

The Boy Scouts of America votes in Texas this week on whether to change its century old membership policy. The proposal is to open up the scouts to allow gay youth to join and continue to ban on adults who are gay. About 1,400 voting members will decide.

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This week, Boy Scouts of America officials will meet in Texas to consider changing the group's longstanding ban on gay members. The first round of voting starts tomorrow. A new membership policy would allow gay youth, but continue to ban adult leaders who are gay.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: The century-old organization is at a crossroads as 1,400 voting members decide its future.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: On my honor, I will do my best. to do my duty to God and my country...

LOHR: In Alpharetta, Ga., a meeting starts with scouts reciting the oath as they stand at attention. Troop 629 in the Atlanta Area Council is holding patrol leader elections. The boys run the meetings themselves, with assistance from Scoutmaster Fran Gillis.

FRAN GILLIS: Ask yourself a few questions before you vote. Is this person the one I want leading me on my activities, to make sure we have a good time? Is he not only going to give me a fun time, but is it going to be in the scouting way?

LOHR: This vote was quick and easy. but debate over the upcoming Texas vote is intense. The resolution being considered says no youth may be denied membership on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. The new policy would allow gay members but would ban anyone who is gay from becoming a leader after age 18.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

KATHLEEN NARAYANAN: Quite frankly, I think the Boy scouts are a little bit behind the times.

LOHR: Kathleen Narayanan is the advancement chair for Troop 629. One of her sons is an eagle scout and the other is senior patrol leader.

NARAYANAN: Well, most people don't really care if someone is a gay man or a lesbian female. You know, you judge somebody based on the person, not on their sexuality.

LOHR: The most recent debate over the policy began in January. One idea was to allow local troops to decide whether to allow gay members. Some conservative organizations objected. So the Boy Scouts conducted a survey and came up with the latest proposal, which would allow openly gay youth to participate. For the past couple of months, groups have been lobbying, protesting and threatening to leave the group if the proposal passes.

But Paul Guequierre with the Human Rights Campaign says it doesn't go far enough.

PAUL GUEQUIERRE: There is no reason for discrimination to be a part of Boy Scouts of America. And I think more and more people are seeing that now and are ready for the Boy Scouts to change their policy, not just for scouts but also for adults.

LOHR: But some religious and conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, say lifting the ban would, quote, "dramatically alter the culture and moral landscape of America." Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke at a Web event sponsored by the Council earlier this month, saying the group should not cave into pressure from gay rights activists.

GOV. RICK PERRY: And for pop culture to come in and try to tear that up because it just happens to be the, you know, the flavor of the month so to speak, and to tear apart one of the great organizations that have served millions of young men, that is just not appropriate.

LOHR: About 70 percent of troops are chartered by faith-based groups. The Mormon Church says it's OK with allowing gay scouts and is satisfied the group has made a good faith effort to address the issue.

On the other hand a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, Roger Oldham, says the change contradicts the churches' values.

ROGER OLDHAM: Why would Mom and Dad voluntarily choose to expose their children to an organization that no longer shares their values?

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

LOHR: Last week, a group known as OnMyHonor.net organized rallies across the country. About 40 people showed up outside the Boy Scout headquarters in Atlanta to urge members not to vote for the change. Lauri Weatherly has two sons in scouting and she says allowing gay members would be a mistake.

LAURI WEATHERLY: That doesn't go along with the mission statement that Boy Scouts of America has in place. It goes against the scout oath and it goes against the scout law.

LOHR: But assistant scoutmaster for Troop 629, Jason Sutton, says that's not true. Military and workplace policies have changed he says and scouting should too.

JASON SUTTON: And so, I think this is as a first step of getting to where society is, and society's tolerance.

LOHR: The divide over the proposal continues. Area councils across the country have come down on both sides. As the vote nears, neither side is backing down.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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