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Looming decision on gays in Scouting spurs activism
Greg Poe wasn’t a Boy Scout growing up. He joined with his son seven years ago, drawn to the program’s religious and moral foundations.
On Friday, he joined about a dozen adult leaders and parents who think those foundations are under attack. On Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America’s national leadership will gather in Irving, Texas, to decide whether to let openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay adults, join the organization.
Poe, Scoutmaster of Troop 402 in Dade City, said by considering the change the Boy Scouts is compromising the principles that have guided it for more than 100 years.
“It’s not about being gay,” Poe said. “It’s about what’s going to happen to Scouting if this passes.”
The proposal has divided the BSA’s leadership all the way down to the troop level. It also has put Scouting at odds with the thousands of churches — mostly notably Catholic and Mormon churches — that sponsor troops.
The Mormon church has said it will abide by a ruling in favor of gay Scouts. Other churches have been less forthcoming.
The protest outside the offices of the Tampa area’s Gulf Ridge Council was one of four in Florida and about four dozen nationwide aimed at influencing 1,400 delegates to next week’s national meeting.
“There are a lot of people that feel this agenda, sex and politics, is not in keeping with Scouting’s moral values,” Poe said. “Those values are instilled in these boys that they use to assume leadership positions throughout our country and our lives.”
George McGovern, Gulf Ridge Council’s executive director, issued a written statement about the controversy.
“We respect everyone’s right to express an opinion, and we believe our disagreements are minor compared to our shared vision and common goals,” McGovern wrote. “Going forward, we will work to stay focused on that which unites us.”
Poe said he worries a “yes” vote will deeply damage Scouting. He sees it as a step toward forcing Scouting to drop its requirement that all members believe in God.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as a private organization, the Boy Scouts could define its own standards of membership, including banning gay Scouts.
Last year, the BSA’s national committee reaffirmed its stance against allowing gay Scouts or leaders.
But some highly publicized events, including banning a lesbian den mother from Cub Scouts and denying a boy his Eagle award after he came out of the closet, led some companies to pull their financial support because of BSA’s anti-gay policy.
John Desmond, president of the Tampa chapter of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, said the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy forces gay Scouts to lie about who they really are.
“The Boy Scouts, they’re proud of their American heritage,” Desmond said. “What’s more American than being inclusive?”