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Scouts' ban on gays stands for now, but debate rages on

Posted Thursday, Feb. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Should the Boy Scouts change policy on gay members and leaders?

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IRVING -- It may have been a no-decision, but to some protesters outside the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Wednesday, it was still a victory of sorts because -- at least until May -- the ban on gay Scouts and leaders stands.

Travis Monk hopes it stays that way.

If the organization changes its long-standing policy and allows gay Scouts and adults, the 14-year-old from Arlington will no longer be part of the group.

The Scouts are under a lot of political pressure -- from no less than President Barack Obama -- to end the policy.

"If they lift their ban, my dad, brother and I will all leave," said Monk, a home-schooled ninth-grader who could become an Eagle Scout within a year. "We don't believe homosexuality is right.

"It's an abomination to God," he said. "And it's against the Scout Oath."

Monk was among more than 200 people who gathered for a "Save Our Scouts" prayer rally outside the group's national headquarters in Irving on Wednesday morning, protesting a potential change in the more than century-old organization.

The protesters learned that members of the national council delayed a decision on whether to lift the ban, which had been expected this week, until May.

Jonathan Saenz, who organized the rally, declared that a victory.

"The Boy Scouts of America have decided not to change their policy at this time," Saenz, president of Texas Values, a conservative Austin-based group, said to loud applause and cheers. "But we still have a lot of work to do."

Saenz read the crowd a statement that the Boy Scouts distributed at the rally.

It said that "the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy."

"To that end, the executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns," according to the statement. "The approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council will take action on the resolution at the national meeting in May 2013."

The organization announced last week that it was considering ending the ban on gay members. Officials nationwide weighed in -- from Obama, who supports lifting the ban, to Gov. Rick Perry, who supports leaving the policy as is.

The group garnered worldwide attention this week as members of the executive board gathered for three days of meetings in Irving.

During Wednesday's 11/2-hour rally, supporters of the current policy carried signs that read, "God votes no gays," "God's final warning," "What happened to 'for God and country'" and "Save Our Scouts."

Scouts prayed, sang, waved small American flags and called on one another to support the current policy.

Tami Cooke of Richardson said she hopes that national leaders do not change the policy this year -- or ever.

"We don't want homosexuals around our sons," said Cooke, who has one son in Boy Scouts.

"We're not filled with hate. We just feel that if they really want to go camping and build a tent, they can start their own group."

Supporting change

While those gathered at the rally supported leaving the policy alone, other Scouts spoke out in favor of the change.

David Montague of Fort Worth has spent more than a decade with the Boy Scouts -- as an assistant scoutmaster, a scoutmaster, a Scout leader and more.

And he believes it's time for the Boy Scouts to change the way things are done.

"I think it's long overdue for Scouting to recognize that it should be open to all persons," said Montague, a former Tarrant County prosecutor who specialized in child abuse cases.

"Anybody the local group wants to have as a leader, that should be up to the local leadership as long as there is no threat to the children. And being gay isn't a threat."

He said that the Boy Scouts shouldn't rush into a decision and that he hopes the leadership finds a balance between being inclusive and allowing local groups that partner with troops -- such as churches, schools and other sponsors -- to have a voice as well.

"I fully support the change in procedure and the removal of this ban," he said.

Lee Henderson, who became an Eagle Scout at 15, said he would also like to see the policy change.

"I personally do not believe it is the Scout Way to exclude young men or adult leaders on the basis of sexual orientation," said Henderson, 35, of Fort Worth. "I do not agree that the Scout Oath's 'morally straight' judges a particular sexual orientation as immoral.

"Church denominations don't all agree, either," he said.

"When you get down to relying on only the Old Testament's Leviticus as your law of morality, then I think you've lost already."

No change needed?

During the rally, some speakers said the issue is about more than sexuality. It's about the country's moral fiber.

"In Texas, we are not afraid to acknowledge, with reverence, that the principles we stand on are from God," said Dave Welch, a Houston pastor and director of the Texas Pastors Council. "We're not standing here against or for, but on those principles.

"We have no choice."

Many at the rally said they worry that national leaders will cave in to pressures from those who provide money to the organization. Others predict that membership will plunge if leaders change the anti-gay policy.

For Timothy Baird, a 13-year-old Scout from Arlington, it's a simple issue.

"It's not right to have leaders that are sexually immoral," said Baird, an eighth-grader. "It's not right for the Scouts."

Mother Lana Baird, who home-schools Timothy and two other children, said her family often discusses the debate over the policy.

"We've been very upset about this," she said. Those who want the policy changed "are bullying the Boy Scouts into doing something we don't agree with."

But she said the national board's move to delay a decision is wrong.

"It's quite cowardly on their part," she said. "They have an outpouring of suggestions. They are not making the hard choice in choosing."

Between now and May, she and others say, they will write letters and emails and make phone calls to elected officials and Scout leaders alike.

"This is something we really believe in," Lana Baird said.

Officials weigh in

A group of elected officials in Texas signed an open letter this week encouraging the Boy Scouts to uphold their traditional stance and reject a change in the policy.

"We urge you to be morally and physically strong. We urge you to protect all that scouting has been and all that it can remain," according to the letter, which includes the signatures of GOP state Sens. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Brian Birdwell of Granbury and GOP state Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Matt Krause and Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, Phil King of Weatherford, Bill Zedler of Arlington and Jonathan Stickland of Bedford. U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, also signed.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who's an Eagle Scout, said it's a good idea for the Boy Scouts of America to review its policy.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, was a Boy Scout, and he believes that the policy should stay the same.

"Scouting was an important part of my youth. It taught me the importance of family, friendship, community service, responsibility and leadership. It was a great learning experience that I credit with setting me up for success as an adult," said Barton, who achieved the rank of Life Scout.

"I support the Boy Scouts of America's long-standing stance on sexual orientation and think the national board should continue to stand by the family values and morals that make Scouting so special."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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