The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the group to ponder a host of potential complications – ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Yet despite their be-prepared approach, Scouts leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year’s Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.
“My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare,” said Brad Haddock, a national executive board member who leads the policy implementation committee. “It’s business as usual, nothing happens, and we move forward.”
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy, and some families are switching to a new, conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized, and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout,” said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. “If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say, ‘We’ll take the troop.’ ”
The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the Scouts’ National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate and was accompanied by an announcement that the group would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation. However, gay Scouts will face some limitations.
“Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” says one Boy Scouts document. “No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation.”
Trying to anticipate potential friction, the group has distributed extensive explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy.
A frequently-asked-questions document anticipates that some objections might surface from parents – or Scouts themselves – in cases where a unit includes an openly gay boy.
Haddock says “isolated pockets” of problems are likely to surface, but overall he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.