By Steve Kuchera, Forum News Service
DULUTH —The local Boy Scouts council has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward news that the Boy Scouts of America may soon allow local sponsors to decide whether to accept gays as scouts and leaders.
Currently, Boy Scouts national policy requires all the religious and civic groups sponsoring Scout units to exclude gays. On Monday, the BSA announced it might drop that policy and allow the groups to decide for themselves whether to exclude or allow gays.
“There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of folks that are watching the story very closely,” David A. Nolle, Scout executive/CEO of the BSA’s Voyageurs Area Council, said Tuesday. “We are anxiously waiting to see how this all plays out. My biggest request to our internal and external audiences is that we follow Scout oath and law as this story evolves in that we are respectful of other people’s opinions.”
The Voyageurs Area Council served 4,494 members during 2011 and had 1,325 adult leaders in 18 counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It has around 100 chartered organizations sponsoring 147 Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, Explorer posts and Venturing crews.
The national organization would not require local organizations to accept gay scouts or leaders, officials said.
“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement to the media. “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.”
The change could be announced as early as next week, following a national board meeting on Feb. 6.
Nationally, the proposed change is creating a lot of comment. In the 20 hours following the posting of Smith’s statement on the BSA’s Facebook page, it had generated 3,603 comments — many of them negative — and received 1,789 likes.
In contrast, a message on the issue from Nolle to council members, partners and staff received four likes and generated two comments from one person opposed to the proposed change in the 13 hours after it was posted on the Voyageurs Area Council’s Facebook page.
In his message, Nolle encouraged people with concerns or questions to contact him.
“I thought I would get a little bit of buzz, but the phone has been pretty quiet,” Nolle said.
Duluth Human Rights Officer Bob Grytdahl has been active in the Scouts. He declined to comment on the proposed change as a former troop leader, but as human rights officer said it’s a good idea.
“I hope they follow through with the policy,” he said. “The (current) policy, in my view, has been way behind the times. The Boy Scouts have to stay up with the times.”
The BSA’s no-gays policy has long been controversial. Protests over the policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude gays. In response, some groups with nondiscrimination policies pulled their sponsorships. Locally, the board of the United Way of Greater Duluth voted in September 2000 to stop giving money to the council.
In January 2002, the council’s board adopted a new statement on “Membership Standards Regarding Sexuality.” Under the standards, the council does not inquire into the sexual orientation of existing or prospective members. The council will exclude members if “his or her sexual behavior becomes publicly inappropriate as judged by Voyageurs Area Council.”
At the request of the Voyageurs Council, the United Way board examined the policy and its 2000 decision. The board voted unanimously in April 2002 to make the Boy Scouts eligible for money.