One of Nebraska's oldest Boy Scouts said the decision to allow gay boys to become Scouts is the right call.
Jay Graves, 87, a retired optometrist, said there are valuable lessons for boys to learn in scouting, no matter their sexual orientation.
“I think a gay boy would be somebody that needed ideals of Boy Scouts as much as anybody,” Graves said.
Members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council voted Thursday to ease a long-standing ban and allow openly gay boys to join. More than 60 percent supported the proposal.
Gay adults will remain barred from serving as Scout leaders — a decision Graves said he supports.
Robert Birkby, a native of Sidney, Iowa, and author of the last three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook, supports the decision to include homosexual boys.
Birkby said the organization will eventually be entirely inclusive. And that's a good thing, he said.
“My main focus has always been that Scouts is an organization for all boys,” he said.
The new policy takes effect Jan. 1. But the debate over the membership policy is unlikely to end, and it could trigger defections by those who disapprove of homosexuals being allowed to join.
Some churches that sponsor Scout units had wanted to continue excluding gay youths, and, in some cases, they threatened to leave the BSA if the ban were lifted.
Representatives of the Nebraska Family Council and Family First, local nonprofit groups that promote traditional family views, declined to comment.
“We are deeply saddened,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee after learning of the vote. “Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.”
The Assemblies of God said the policy change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.”
The result was welcomed by many gay-rights groups that joined in the call for an end to the ban on gay adults.
“I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in scouting, my work will continue,” said Jennifer Tyrrell. Her ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because she is a lesbian launched a national protest movement.
The decision to allow gay boys into Scout ranks should not have been made on the national level, said former Scoutmaster William Knight, who led Troop 1 in Omaha for several years.
He said the boys should be making the decisions about who can join.
“If parents get involved, things can get messed up,” Knight said.
In January, the Scouts' national executive committee suggested a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders, or continuing to exclude them.
However, the plan won little praise, and the BSA changed course after assessing responses to surveys sent out starting in February to members of the scouting community.
The proposal approved Thursday was seen as a compromise, and the Scouts stressed that they would not condone sexual conduct by any Scout, straight or gay.
The Mid-America Council, which represents much of eastern Nebraska, western Iowa and a sliver of southeast South Dakota, said it honors the decision and will offer services to anybody interested in Scouts.
The council said in a statement that the new policy will give boys who want to join an opportunity to thrive.
“We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth,” the council said. “Going forward, we will work to stay focused on that which unites us.”
The Scouts' overall traditional youth membership — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers — is now about 2.6 million, compared with more than 4 million in peak years. It also has about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers.
Of the more than 100,000 Scout units in the United States, 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions.
The organization, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded gays as well as atheists.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude homosexuals.
Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that follow nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
Justin Short of Omaha said Thursday's actions were not enough. Short, scoutmaster for Troop 405, is the father of a Boy Scout and Cub Scout.
He said the organization should allow gay men to take leadership roles. He's disappointed that that policy didn't change, but he will stick with the Scouts regardless.
“Scouting is about a lot more than this issue,” Short said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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