The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day on Wednesday, a historic change that has prompted the organization to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tentmates and showers, to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Yet despite their “be prepared” approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event.
“My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare,” said Brad Haddock, a BSA National Executive Board member who chairs the policy implementation committee, referring to 2000, when fears of digital clock chaos proved unfounded.
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the policy and some families are switching to a conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. However, massive defections have not occurred and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout,” said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kansas. “If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say: ‘We’ll take the troop.’”
The policy was approved in May with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Under the policy, youths cannot be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or Venturers program solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. However, gay Scouts will face some limitationis.
“Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” one BSA document says. “No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation.”
Trying to anticipate friction, the BSA has distributed question-and-answer documents related to the policy. For example: Can a Scout march in uniform in a gay pride parade? No, the BSA says.
It is also encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers. Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders.
Haddock said “isolated pockets” of problems are likely to surface, but overall, he expects adult leaders will be able to defuse any potential conflicts.