Boy Scout decision on gay members, leaders looms

The Boy Scouts of America seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

At their National Annual Meeting slated for May 22 through 24, the 1,400 representatives for each Scout area council will cast a vote to adopt or forgo a policy change which would allow gay Scouts.

Lee County troops fall under the jurisdiction of the Yocona Area Council, which covers 12 counties in Northeast Mississippi and serves about 4,000 Scouts.

Rick Chapman, Scout Executive for the Yocona Area Council, said Yocona Area’s representatives would definitely vote against the policy change. Current membership standards prohibit openly gay Scouts.

“There are no pros for this area in the event of a policy change,” he said. “No matter what, the Scouting program in the Yocona Area’s 12 counties will reflect the values of those counties.”

Those values were assessed by information gathered through surveys between April and May of this year. Scout parents, volunteers, leaders, and chartered organizations gave their opinion on potential situations involving gay Scouts. Overall, over 85 percent favored the current restrictions, and over 90 percent agreed that the Scout’s current position is a core value of Scouting found in the Scout Oath and Law.

Despite previous notions that would allow each charter organization to make the decision on their own, Chapman confirmed the outcome of the National Annual Meeting’s vote would take effect country-wide.

“Letting each sponsoring organization decide was something everyone was against,” he said. “Because situations would arise, like Scout camp, where troops that went opposite ways on it will interact.”

Greg O’Quinn, Scout Master for Troop 85, said he worried a policy change would cripple the Scouting program.

“Not only would you have parents pulling their kids out of Scouts, but many good leaders would leave,” he said. “If it came though, the focus wouldn’t be as much on Scouting because leaders would be preoccupied with liability issues.”

The Rev. Will Rogers, Scout Master of Troop 2010 and pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, said whatever action is taken, he hoped it would be made in the best interest of the kids themselves.

“There’s going to be pushback either way. I just hope people are sincere when talking about helping our young people,” he said.

True to the Scout motto, Champan said the Yocona Council is prepared for either scenario.

“I think if the vote is close, the pressure on us to change will continue, but if the vote is overwhelming then I expect it to back off,” he said. “If it passes and sponsoring organizations drop their troops, we will find them other troop homes so they can continue toward getting their Eagle.”

Chapman also said the program has strengthened its policies that create barriers to child abuse within the program. These include the requirement of at least two leaders present on each outing, and no one-on-one contact between adults and Scouts, as well as bans on hazing and bullying.

“The Yocona Council is going to focus on our local troops and not lose sight of what’s best for them. Scouting is a big thing around here, and I’m confident the community will step up and help if we suffer from pulled funding,” he said.

Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

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