Columbus area churches and others sponsoring Boy Scout troops are lining up on both sides of a controversy pulling at the National Council of Boy Scouts of America, which has delayed a decision until May on whether to allow openly gay Scouts and adult leaders.
Justin White, senior minister at First Christian Church in Columbus, said he “can’t imagine” elders and other church leaders voting to accept gay leaders for Troop 552 if given the option by the National Council.
He said Scouts of any sexual orientation always will be accepted, but the church leadership sees gay leaders in opposition to First Christian’s doctrinal beliefs.
Scouts stance on homosexuality
In 1978, the Boy Scouts of America circulated a memo among national organizational leaders, stating that it was not appropriate for homosexuals to have leadership positions in Scouting, according to bsalegal.org. That’s a Boy Scouts of America National Council site devoted to legal decisions and rulings involving the organization.
The site currently includes this statement on homosexuality:
“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.
“Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.
“The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.”
Steve Pope, Cub Scout Master based at First Christian, said openly gay adults, including dads and others, are welcome to volunteer and serve — but not as leaders.
However, the Rev. Clem Davis, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus, said he would support an openly gay individual put into a leadership position in the local Scout troop.
St. Bartholomew hosts Troop 555, chartered by the Catholics’ Knights of Columbus Council 1414.
“I certainly would not stand in the way of a homosexual individual devoted to the Scouting cause and who also was trying to live his Catholic Christian life,” Davis said. “And I have publicly expressed that view (before).”
Last July, the national organization upheld its ban on gay leaders — after it removed a lesbian mom as a den leader in Ohio. A California Scout troop also barred a 17-year-old member from achieving Scouting’s top rank of Eagle after he came out as gay.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 upheld Scouting’s right to make its own admission standards when the court ruled that the organization could ban a gay leader.
“People have been very passionate on either side of the issue,” said Glen R. Steenberger, Scouting executive and CEO of the Bloomington-based Hoosier Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Although the California case raised attention on the ban of gay Scout members, Steenberger said that has never been an issue locally.
“I can’t tell you of one case here where that has come up,” said Steenberger, whose council oversees 34 units and about 1,000 Scouts in Bartholomew County.
He said Scouts in the Hoosier Trails Council are never asked about their sexual orientation.
Scouting’s national board was expected to discuss the matter of allowing gay Scout leaders and members in early February at meetings in Irving, Texas, but officials said they needed more time to consider it.
Columbus’ Brad Hurley, parent of a 10-year-old Cub Scout in Troop 552, said his concern about gay leaders involves his son’s safety and protection during activities such as campouts.
“I just wouldn’t be comfortable,” Hurley said.
Columbus’ Julia Stumpff, parent of a son whom she said could be a future Scout, said she supports inclusion of gay leaders.
She is a Christian and a founding member of Columbus’ Inclusive Community Coalition, which has supported gay rights.
“I (also) hope (Scouting) takes the next step to adopt an official nondiscrimination policy,” Stumpff said. “I don’t think any members or leaders in any units should be turned away or discriminated against for being gay.”
Stumpff said there’s a lot to like about Scouting.
“(But) discrimination against gay males is not one of the good things,” she said. “I have struggled philosophically and morally with the decision of whether or not to allow my 9-year-old son to join the organization.
“If the Boy Scouts of America ends their ban on gay Scouts and gay leaders, it will be much easier to support this organization with membership, money and use of church buildings,” Stumpff said
Columbus resident Dana Harrison is a member of the transgender community who wants to see discrimination lifted involving gays at all levels of Scouting.
Harrison said she was a Scout as a boy.
“I had the most wonderful Scout leaders and learned values and skills I still use today,” she said. “I truly hope that the BSA chooses to end their discrimination and let the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Scouts and leaders be who they are openly and continue to teach and learn the values and skills of scouting.”
She has two grandsons in Scouts.
“Some day,” she said, “I hope to stand next to them as Boy Scouts, proudly professing I am a former Boy Scout and sharing our experiences.”
Steenberger acknowledged that the number of Boy Scouts in the Hoosier Trails Council had declined for about a decade but said numbers have stabilized in the past three years.
He said the decline was only partly linked to the stance on gay leaders.
“I’m sure there is some connection,” Steenberger said. “But, also, there are so many demands on a young person’s time. And it’s harder for Scouting to compete.”