GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — As protesters made one last stand, the Boy Scouts of America's leadership began a conference Wednesday that was expected to culminate in a long-anticipated vote on whether to allow openly gay Scouts — a decision that, either way, could deeply affect the organization's membership and funding.
Scouting leaders from around the country gathered at a resort in Grapevine, Texas, near the youth organization's suburban Dallas headquarters, for their annual national meeting. The three-day meeting is being closely watched because Scout officials have scheduled a vote Thursday on a resolution that would not allow youth Scouts to be excluded based only on sexual orientation. The ban on gay adult leaders would remain in place.
Conservatives and some religious groups have opposed the plan, which is backed by gay-rights supporters. National groups on both sides have organized protests and campaigns to woo the approximately 1,400 members of the national council who will cast ballots.
On the eve of the vote, BSA President Wayne Perry called for voters to approve the resolution. He wrote an opinion piece for USA Today saying a change is "the right decision for Boy Scouts."
"Parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting," he said in the piece, published online Wednesday. "The resolution is not about adults; it is about what is best for young people."
The meeting is closed to the public, with staffers and security watching for protesters and the media. About two dozen people holding up signs saying "NO on the resolution" stood on the sidewalk Wednesday outside the entrance. Meanwhile, supporters of the change gathered at a resort across the street, holding a meeting they dubbed the "Equal Scouting Summit."
Speaking on both sides were current and former Eagle Scouts who had worked years to achieve Scouting's highest rank. They recited parts of the Scout Oath and the 12-point Scout Law — from "trustworthy" to "reverent" — to make their separate cases.
Dave McGrath and one of his six sons, Joe, rode their bicycles from Idaho to Texas to support Scouts for Equality, which has organized rallies in several cities. McGrath, 48, said he had two children and a brother who are gay and that he considered the current exclusion policy a "taint" on his Eagle Scout honor.
"So a Scout is trustworthy, unless you're gay," McGrath said. "That isn't the way I was raised."
Meanwhile, John Wade, a former Eagle from Tennessee who now is a minister, called the possible change an extreme departure from what he described as Scouting's roots in biblical values.
"I think that it really presents a danger as well as a conflict of interest to what BSA was originally started as," said Wade, 26.
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