It's time for Boy Scouts to end outdated ban on gays

Eagle Scout from South Florida pushes for change, as decision delayed until May

A decision on whether the Boy Scouts of America will keep its policy that excludes gay members and leaders will not be voted on until the organization's annual meeting in May.

Just when it looked like the Boy Scouts of America would finally join the 21st century and end its longstanding ban against gays, it punted on the issue.

Its executive board postponed a decision until May. Wednesday's inaction frustrated gay-rights activists and scouts pushing for change, and relieved traditionalists who like the status quo. As an Eagle Scout (Troop 521, Brooklyn, 1983) who got so much out of scouting, I'm disappointed that discrimination is allowed to stand. Even if only for a few more months.

"I think the overwhelming public response on both sides caught them by surprise, and they just want to be careful," said Justin Bickford, who became an Eagle Scout in 1995 with Troop 121 in Miramar and is now a leader of Scouts for Equality, a group with 3,813 Eagle Scouts that seeks to overturn the ban.

John Stemberger, president of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, said the delay gives traditionalists more time to get organized. "It's certainly a strategic victory for us," said Stemberger, an Eagle Scout and former scoutmaster who says allowing gays would lead to "an exodus" among scouts, parents and churches that sponsor troops.

Last week, news reports said the Boy Scouts were poised to end the national ban against gays as scouts, adult leaders and employees, while still allowing troops to set their own policies at the local level. That seemed a reasonable compromise, a way to placate the powerful Mormon and Catholic churches, which sponsor many troops.

"It wouldn't be totally satisfying, but it would be a tremendous step forward," said Bickford, 33, a molecular biologist in Gainseville. Like the three other directors of Scouts for Equality, Bickford is straight. "For many of us, this is quite simply an issue of discrimination," he said.

The U.S. military has ended its ban against gays, and other youth groups such as the Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs of America allow gays as volunteers and leaders. But the Boy Scouts have been reluctant to change. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld its ban in 2000 on first amendment grounds.

The issue keeps getting bigger. President Obama told CBS News last week that the Boy Scouts should be open to all. As the executive board met near Dallas this week, petitions and letters from both sides flooded the organization.

To me, scouting is not about sex, so sexuality should be irrelevant. Scouting was about learning life skills, leadership, discipline. It provided an outlet to camp, hike and explore nature.

I get offended when people conflate the issue of gay participation with the separate issues of sexual abuse or pedophilia. Sexual assault is a crime, and adult scout leaders who break laws — whether they identify as straight or gay — need to be rooted out and prosecuted.

Stemberger frets about "loud and proud" gay men "kissing and snuggling around the campfire in front of young boys." That strikes me as alarmist, playing into stereotypes that gays are sex fiends who can't behave appropriately or be trusted around kids. Please, let's grow up.

Maybe by May, the Boy Scouts finally will. or 954-356-4508

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