Some Southern conservatives are talking about splitting off from the Boy Scouts of America rather than accepting gay youths, while liberal groups continue to push to allow gay leaders.
But Scout troops and Cub packs in Western New York expect to “work to stay focused on that which unites us,” according to their leadership.
The executive of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council said Friday he doesn’t foresee any major changes for the 300 Scout organizations in the area.
“In 20 years of working as a Boy Scout professional, I’ve never had the issue come up with any youth, and only once with an adult – and that wasn’t a big deal,” said Russell Etzenhouser, executive and CEO of the local council.
The Buffalo News reached him in Dallas, a day after the BSA’s National Council voted to accept openly gay youth in its membership but not gay adults as leaders.
Etzenhouser also supported the policy change.
“I believe this update … will allow all kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing program while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of Scouting,” he said in a prepared statement.
The decision is finding opposition elsewhere, mainly from conservative religious groups that host Scout troops in their churches. Seventy percent of Scouting units in the United States are chartered by religious groups, according to the Associated Press.
However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest single sponsor of Scouting in the country and with several Scout units in Western New York, has shifted its position. A statement issued Thursday by the LDS Church said, in part:
“Sexual orientation has not previously been – and is not now – a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.”
And the national BSA also reiterated that, while sexual orientation would no longer be a factor in membership, sexual activity by Scouts remains against the rules.
Locally, a BSA employee and Eagle Scout who started an online petition urging local Scout leadership to support lifting the ban on gays responded to the vote Friday.
“While I’m encouraged, I do worry with this resolution about the message it sends about adults,” said Matthew Wilcott, 29, of the Town of Tonawanda. “There will be boys – 15 or 16 years old – who still have to fear that when they turn 18 they’ll be removed.”
He said he will continue advocating for acceptance of all adults willing to work in Scouting, as leaders or in other volunteer positions.
“It’s not going to go away. Slowly it’s going to progress to where gay adults are allowed in,” said Wilcott, who is not gay but has said he started his campaign “as a matter of conscience.”
One reason for his optimism comes from talking with parents and Scouts.
“At the Cub Scout level, the parents are of a different generation than the national leadership. They have no problem with this,” he said. “And I get the sense this is not a big deal with the youth, either. If you bring it up, they’re like, ‘Whatever … when’s the next campout?’”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, many conservatives within the Scouts who are upset with the vote are threatening to defect.
The Assemblies of God said the policy change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.”
John Stembeger, a conservative activist from Florida and founder of a group called OnMyHonor.net to oppose the policy change, said he is calling a meeting of like-minded organizations and individuals in Louisville, Ky., next month to discuss the creation of “a new character development organization for boys,” the AP said.
In the end, Thursday’s resolution could be seen as a compromise that either makes no one happy or that, in many Scout groups, will be barely noticed.
There are now about 2.6 million boys and youth involved in Scouting; 9,000 members are in the Greater Niagara Council.