Boy Scouts reconsiders policy against gay membership

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(CNN) — The Boy Scouts of America is considering changing its longstanding policy against allowing openly gay members, according to a release from the organization.

The organization, which has 2.7 million members, is “potentially discussing” doing away with its policy after months of nationwide protest, including hundreds of angry Eagle scouts renouncing their hard-earned awards and mailing back their red-white-and-blue medals.

Many parents of Scouts across America found the national policy excluding gays confusing — and at odds with basic scouting ideals.

Social media was abuzz with outrage over the policy; gay men who used to be Boy Scouts spoke out in first-person blogs. On her TV talk show, Ellen DeGeneres featured a California scout who had been denied his Eagle rank because he is gay.

In the Scouts’ release Monday, the group indicated that decisions on gay membership would be made at the local level. Each troop’s charter organization would be able to decide “consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue,” the statement said.

In April of last year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) first started calls for the Scouts to end its ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. They applauded Monday’s announcement.

“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay Scouts and Scout leaders is wrong,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. “Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect.”

The protest was sparked last year after Ohio Cub Scout den leader Jennifer Tyrrell, was forced to step down from her position in her son’s Cub Scout pack because she is openly gay.

Some critics who say that Scouts have failed to change with the times blame its connections to organized religion. Approximately 70% of Scout troops are affiliated with some kind of church or religious group, according to BSA spokesman Deron Smith.

Scouts for Equality reports that 11 organization councils which include more than 260,000 Scouts, have publicly protested against the policy, according to GLAAD.

The Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among scouting’s biggest backers, BSA says. In 2011, Mormon-backed Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops accounted for more than 420,000 of all Scouts nationwide. More than 200,000 scouts were members of units affiliated with the Catholic Church.

President Barack Obama — the honorary head of the Scouts, as is every president — supports gay and lesbians in Girl and Boy Scouts as does former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon,

Last year, the Girl Scouts allowed a transgender member into a troop. That move sparked a cookie boycott.

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Deron Smith, spokesperson for Boy Scouts of America, issued this statement:

“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” 

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