One of the oldest youth organizations in the country continues to face pressure from members and activists over its policy on homosexuality and could change it in less than a month.
The Boy Scouts of America announced last Friday that a proposal aiming to eliminate the group’s longstanding ban on gay members will be voted on the week of May 20. While the measure would still prohibit gay adults from becoming scout leaders, the proposal would bar applicants from being denied membership because of their sexual orientation.
Defenders of gay rights within the BSA believe the proposal will improve the public’s view of the organization and promote inclusion while those opposed to the measure say that it will elicit disparagement from parents who might threaten to remove their children from the group.
And just as the debate over the inclusion of gay scouts has created conflict within the 103-year-old organization on a national level, BSA leaders across Queens and the city are also split over what decision the group should make.
Joseph Schlitz, spokesman for the Greater New York Council of the BSA, said the mission of the group is to serve all New York City youth.
“The national resolution proposing change is a step in the right direction that supports our efforts to serve all youth who want to be Boy Scouts,” Schlitz said. “We will continue to advocate for a more inclusive policy, consistent with our longstanding nondiscrimination practice.”
Longtime scout leader Fred Bedell Jr., a leader of Troop 114 in Queens Village and Troop 342 in Glen Oaks, said he does not have a problem with the measure.
“Everyone has a right to their own sexual orientation,” Bedell said. “I’ve always believed that everyone should be accepted as they are.”
But not everyone agrees.
“I don’t know if it’s such a good idea,” said Charles Krzewski, BSA committee chairman for St. Margaret’s Church in Middle Village and Eagle Scout coordinator for the Pathfinder District of Queens. “I don’t think parents will be very happy with it.”
Ralph DeFalco, a scoutmaster from Troop 17 in Elmhurst who has held his position for 60 years, believes debate over the proposal is clouding the organization’s reputation and is endangering its future.
“They put themselves in a bind and whichever direction they go in, they’re going to lose members,” DeFalco said. “They are looking for the easiest and quietest way out.”
The BSA said it prepared the resolution allowing gay members after conducting “the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history” to gauge the impact of changing its policy.
“While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting,” the organization said in a prepared statement. It noted that the resolution reinforces the idea that Scouting is a youth activity, and sexual conduct of any kind is contrary to its values.
According to a national CBS News poll conducted in March, 51 percent of Americans believe the Boy Scouts should allow openly gay members while 36 percent are against the measure. The same study also reported that 64 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think the BSA should allow gay scouts while only 45 percent of those over the age of 45 support inclusion.
While growing numbers of Americans are supportive of the proposal, the decision ultimately lies within the hands of the approximately 1,400 members of the BSA’s National Council who will be voting on a decision in Texas next month.