Scouts reject troop sponsored by gay rights group

This photo taken Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America's policy excluding gay members and leaders could be changing. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Boy Scouts of America have rejected an application for a scouting troop sponsored by a Utah gay rights organization.

The Utah Pride Center recently asked permission to start a troop for 10 middle-school aged children with straight troop leaders, said executive director Valerie Larabee. Many of the boys’ parents had previously left Scouts or opted not to join because of their opposition to the Boy Scouts’ long-standing policy excluding gays and lesbians.

After spending four months preparing a proposal to adhere to Scouts’ standards, Utah Pride Center officials said a local representative from the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council returned the entire application intact four days later_ including the business cards they had given him.

They were told that the mission of their organization didn’t properly align with the goals of Boy Scouts, said Charles Frost, Utah Pride Center director of community engagement. The Salt Lake City-based group is an advocacy and service group for gays and lesbians.

The rejected proposal was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Rick Barnes, executive of the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council, said it was a decision made by the national organization and forwarded inquiries there. Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said in an emailed statement that, “Based on the mission of this organization, we do not believe a chartered partner relationship is beneficial to Scouting.”

The Boy Scouts national executive board is currently mulling a proposal to move away from its no-gays membership policy or create a local option that would give the decision to the individual troops. The board is expected to decide in May.

The organization has sent out a questionnaire distributed to 1.1 million adult Scouts that uses fictional situations to discern where Scouting’s membership falls on questions of homosexuality, gays camping with children, and gays in church leadership. They are also accepting feedback from local Scouting councils.

In the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council _ one of the largest in the country with 5,500 troops and 73,400 youth _ four out of five Scout leaders and parents that responded to a survey said they are opposed to lifting the ban on gays. Nearly half said they would quit the Boy Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted, according to results of a survey of 4,700 adults.

Nearly all of the troops in the Great Salt Lake Council are sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful. In December, however, the LDS church launched a website encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality.

“It does appear that this is almost a foregone conclusion the way it’s being spoken about here,” said Larabee, of the Utah Pride Center. “That’s very sad for Utah. … They are failing to recognize that they do have gay scouts within their ranks.”

Frost said by turning away the offer, they missed an opportunity to bring in more minorities and disenfranchised youth. He insisted that the troop would have followed all of Boy Scouts’ current policies.

Larabee said the proposal was not a stunt aimed at making a point. She added that they genuinely wanted to give the 10 boys an opportunity to take advantage of the valuable life skills offered by Scouts.

“This is the most important time to really find out what the Boy Scouts believe in as far as supporting youth,” Larabee said.


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