The leader of a gay advocacy group said Friday a proposal to allow gay youths to participate in Scouting was a positive step but fell short of what's needed.
Under pressure over its long-standing ban on gays, the Boy Scouts of America has proposed lifting the ban for youth members but continuing to exclude gays as adult leaders.
The Scouts said the proposal would be submitted to the 1,400 voting members of its National Council during a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.
Without gay leaders, gay Scouts will lack role models, said Scott J. Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, a gay advocacy group in Oklahoma City.
The leader of the Scouts' Last Frontier Council in Oklahoma City said the role of gays in Scouting “has been a challenging issue for the organization.”
Scout Executive Jeff Woolsey said it is “premature for our council to comment on the resolution until our board has the opportunity consider it.”
Gay-rights groups have demanded a complete lifting of the ban, while some churches and conservative groups want it maintained in its entirety.
The Boy Scouts estimated that easing the ban on gay adults could cause widespread defections, costing the organization 100,000 to 350,000 members.
The Last Frontier Council says on its website it has more than 10,000 youth members and more than 5,000 volunteers in 24 counties in central, western, and southwestern Oklahoma.
Hamilton said he had to hide his sexual orientation as a Scout growing up in Troop 72 in Oklahoma City. He said he rose to the rank of Life, a step below Eagle, and served in leadership positions.
“We have been quite vocal about this because so many of us were Scouts,” Hamilton said.
“Where they are at this juncture is a big step forward in terms of the boys,” he said. “We certainly applaud this step, but it's not far enough.”
Woolsey said Last Frontier Council members “commend the considerate and comprehensive way with which the Boy Scouts of America has approached this complex issue to determine the right direction moving ahead for this outstanding organization.”
In January, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts said the organization was considering a plan to give local units the option of admitting gays as youth members and adult leaders.
On Friday, the organization said it changed course in part because of surveys sent to about 1 million members of the Scouting community. About 200,000 responded.
“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,” according to the Friday statement.
As a result, the executive committee drafted a resolution proposing to remove the ban on gay youths while keeping it for all adult leaders.
“The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” the statement said.
The Boy Scouts described the survey as “the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history.”
In a summary of the findings, it said respondents supported the current policy of excluding gays by a margin of 61 percent to 34 percent, while a majority of younger parents and teens opposed the policy.
It said overwhelming majorities of parents, teens and members of the Scouting community felt it would be unacceptable to deny an openly gay Scout an Eagle Scout award solely because of his sexual orientation.
Included in the survey were dozens of churches and other religious organizations, which sponsor a majority of Scout units. Many expressed concern about having gay adult leaders but were less concerned about gay youth members.
Many Scout units are sponsored by relatively conservative denominations that have supported the ban on gays in the past — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
Local Scout councils said 51 percent of their major donors opposed easing the ban, while a majority of Fortune 500 companies supported a change.
The Associated Press
Where they are at this juncture is a big step forward in terms of the boys. We certainly applaud this step, but it's not far enough.”
Scott J. Hamilton,
Cimarron Alliance executive director