News Column

Calif. Scouts Await BSA's Decision on Gays

Jan. 29, 2013

Ed Fletcher, The Sacramento Bee

Under a revised policy being discussed by the Boy Scouts of America, the red-hot issue of gay inclusion would shift to the local level, with area councils and sponsoring organizations free to set their own policies.

The organization has resisted changing its national policy excluding gays for decades, even in the face of protests. As recently as seven months ago the organization reaffirmed its policy after a two-year examination.

Shara Murphy, executive director of the Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center, said the proposed revision was a step in the right direction, but argued the organization should have a policy of inclusion rather then allowing individual Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops to continue to exclude gay members.

"It doesn't implore units to be inclusive," she said.

It remains to be seen how the Golden Empire Council, which serves 20,000 Scouts from Redding to Sacramento, will react should the policy indeed be changed.

Just last summer, the council -- which runs two summer camps -- was accused of firing a longtime camp staff member because he is gay.

The council has maintained he was fired for violating its uniform policy, not because of his sexual orientation.

The firing sparked the resignation of 10 other staff members and an online petition pressuring the council to follow the lead of Minnesota council and adopt an inclusive policy. To date 88,000 people have signed the petition supporting fired staff member Tim Griffin.

Council officials did not return calls for comment Monday.

Much of the hand wringing will be done in living rooms and meeting spaces as individual units meet to adopt their policies.

Under the BSA structure, individual units are sponsored by area churches and civic organizations.

One area scoutmaster and one local den leader expressed uneasiness about the difficult conversations ahead, should the policy be adopted.

Several national religious organizations have reacted with sharp opposition to the policy that is being discussed.

Rich Gay, an assistant scoutmaster of Folsom's Troop 1855, agreed with putting the decision in local hands.

"I think this would be a positive change for Boy Scouts and the BSA would be making a wise choice to allow the local chartering organization the flexibility on how to handle this," he said. "I would expect most chartering organizations to amend their policies to be more inclusive."

He suspected many conservative religious organizations would continue to exclude homosexuals from participating.

"The end result would allow parents and the boys to choose a local unit which fits their beliefs and values," he said.

The difficult conversation might be enough to fracture some units, said Dave Ishikawa, the longtime scoutmaster of Troop 380 in Sacramento.

"You might have individuals say, 'This isn't what I want for my boy, so I'm going to go to another unit,' " Ishikawa said.

Source: (c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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