To some, it’s a positive, forward-moving development.
To others, it flouts a more than 100-year tradition.
Either way, it was history being made when Boy Scouts of America national council members decided to allow openly gay youth to join their local troops. The decision was handed down May 23, when more than 60 percent of the 1,400-member national council voted for the change. The organization still does not allow openly gay Scout leaders.
The decision goes into effect Jan. 1.
“Obviously, it’s an issue that’s prevalent in just about every walk of life, and it started to become a discussion within Scouting troops,” said Trip Selman, Scout executive/CEO of Boy Scouts of America, Northeast Georgia Council. “And, obviously depending on what part of the country you lived in, that discussion was more involved.”
Several conservative groups immediately denounced the decision. The Family Research Council, which lists itself as a “Christian organization promoting the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system upon which it is built,” tweeted following this decision: “Sadly, the @boyscouts’ legacy of producing great leaders has become yet another casualty of moral compromise.”
Times have changed over the years, said Gainesville’s Richard Leet, who was the Boy Scouts’ national president in 1990, and is currently on the executive council.
“Many things have happened in the society of America, and there’s been a major shift in feeling,” Leet said. He referenced a previous case in the early 1990s, when a young girl and her family sued the Boy Scouts for inclusion into the Cub Scout program.
“At that time, we won, because we are a private company and do not take government funds,” he said.
Prior to the announcement, the BSA’s membership requirements read, in part, as follows:
“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.”
Selman said there was a lot of volunteer input in developing the new resolution, which he says has three essential parts:
It reaffirmed the “Duty to God” provision of Scouting. “In fact, it says that it’s an immutable tenant of the Boy Scouts of America, our duty to God,” Selman said.
It does not allow for gay adults to hold positions in Scouting.
“And then, the third thing it did was say that a young person, a child, could not be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” Selman continued.
Selman said that Hall County is home to a prevalent Scouting community in Georgia, with more than 2,700 youth members in 57 units.
Gainesville resident Kyle Miller was one of those youth, participating in the Scouting program through his parents’ church until he was 10 years old.
“I am gay,” he said, adding that he was just a young kid when he was participating so the issue never came up. “I feel like, if the Boy Scouts want to include gays, they should. If they don’t, we should just let everybody live for themselves, and their own personal rights and their own personal morals.”
While Selman has heard some negative comments about the new resolution, he says that the majority of response has been in support of the group.
“Obviously, there are some people who were concerned,” he said. “There have been people who have voiced disapproval of it, but many of them have sort of come to the point where they say, ‘My commitment to Scouting is impacting young lives.’”
Local reaction, much like national reaction, is mixed.
Flowery Branch resident Ann-Marie Cooper does not see it as a social issue.
“I don’t think that anybody should force anything on anybody,” she said. “I think as individuals, or as a group of individuals, you should have the right to do what you want to do. It’s your club. We have the Constitution to protect that, and nobody seems to be paying attention to the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, Gainesville’s Ashley Daggett sees the move as a positive development.
“I definitely support the gays,” she said. “I think that they have the right to do whatever they want, and live their lives and be happy just like anyone else. So I support it.”
Selman pointed out that the majority of boys joining the Scouting program are young children.
“In terms of new youth who we sign up every year, over 75 percent of the new first-time Scouts that we sign up are between the grades of one and three,” he said. “So they’re little. They grow into the Scouting program.”
Like Cooper, Miller also mentioned the Constitution, saying that he respected the right of everyone to their personal freedoms and opinions. He said, for the most part, he enjoyed what he could remember about being a part of the Boy Scouts.
“I do remember, honestly, them being very structured,” he said about the program. “Like, ‘This is how you’re supposed to be; this is how I was raised, so this is how you’re going to be.’ Which I don’t agree with.”
“I believe in everybody’s individuality, completely,” he added.