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Boston Boy Scout Council Adopts Lenient Gay Policy

THE NATION

August 04, 2001|From the Washington Post

BOSTON — Despite their national organization's ban on homosexuals in leadership positions, one of the largest Boy Scout councils in Massachusetts has decided to adopt a version of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay members.

The Boston Minuteman Council, which represents more than 18,000 boys and 330 Scout troops, dens and packs in the metropolitan Boston area, unanimously voted July 19 to approve a bylaw explicitly forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. The policy effectively permits gay youths to be Scouts and gay men to serve as Scout leaders as long as they do not openly reveal or discuss their sexual orientation.

The volunteer board's decision comes at a time when many Boy Scout groups nationwide are encountering recruitment and fund-raising difficulties amid objections by parents, schools, churches, charitable organizations and businesses to the national ban on gays, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Boy Scout councils from several major cities--including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia--recently petitioned the Texas-based national organization to allow them to establish nondiscrimination policies on their own.

The council here has pledged in its new bylaw "to respect all people and defend the rights of others."

"We pride ourselves on the diversity of our members," the bylaw says. "Bias, intolerance and unlawful discrimination are unacceptable within the ranks of the Boston Minuteman Council."

In its careful wording, the bylaw reflects the desire of Boy Scout volunteers here and elsewhere to comply with national directives and operate worthwhile programs while weighing what they see as a moral commitment to diversity.

One council member, who asked not to be identified, said troops lost enough money and support from Boston area organizations "to make us stand up and take notice." It also became increasingly difficult for volunteers to personally justify the ban on openly gay leaders, especially in progressive communities such as Boston and Cambridge.

Approving the new policy was "the correct thing to do," the member said.

Neither Brock Bigsby, the council's executive, nor Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, returned phone calls. However, Bigsby told the Boston Globe earlier this week that the policy was consistent with the National Boy Scouts Council stance on homosexuality.

"Discussions about sexual orientation do not have a place in Scouts," Bigsby said. "The Scouts will not inquire into a person's sexual history, and that person will not expose their sexual orientation one way or another."

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