PLEASANT HILL -- A group of local Boy Scout leaders and parents on Friday urged the national organization to "keep sexuality and politics" out of Scouting by maintaining the ban on openly gay members.
The gathering of about two dozen people at the Scouts' Mt. Diablo Silverado Council office was one of several similar rallies across the country. Delegates to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America meeting in Texas are expected to vote May 23 on a new membership policy that states, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
Study groups the Boy Scouts of America conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of parents of current Scouts support the ban on gay members, down from 57 percent three years ago. They also show majorities of parents, Scouts and others in the Scouting community believe it's unacceptable to deny an openly gay scout his Eagle Scout award solely because of his sexual orientation.
Bruce McIntosh, Scoutmaster of Walnut Creek Troop No. 818, said the Scouts' current membership policy is akin to the military's former "don't ask, don't tell" approach to gay service members. There have always been gay Scouts and troop leaders, he said, but they abided by the organization's ban on "open or avowed homosexuals."
"A policy of inclusion is actually going to lead to an infusion of sex and sexuality into a children's leadership program," said McIntosh, a Mt. Diablo-Silverado council board member. ¿It would lead to conversations about sexuality that should take place at home with parents, he added, not around a campfire or in a tent in the middle of the night.
The Boy Scouts have been under increasing pressure to reexamine their policy since last fall, when Moraga teen Ryan Andresen was expelled from the Boy Scouts after he told his scoutmaster that he objected to the organization's "Duty to God" requirement and that he is gay.
A survey of the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Council members released in March found that 65 percent of those who responded support dropping the ban on gay members. Among Scouts, 81 percent said LGBT people should be allowed to participate in Scouting. Based on the survey results, the board of the council agreed to support the national organization's adoption an inclusive membership policy.
"We're not going to allow Scouting to be a political or social platform for any one group," said John Fenoglio, Scout Executive for the council. "We're just trying to engage as many people in Scouting as possible." He stressed that discussions about sexuality aren't part of Scouting now and still won't be if the membership policy changes.
If the National Council votes to drop the ban on openly gay youth, there could be a backlash among longtime participants in the Scouts. At Friday's rally, Cynthia Herrmann said she will pull her son out of the Scouts if the new membership policy is adopted. McIntosh said he too will leave the organization he's been a part of for more than 40 years.
"When it becomes something other than it is, I'm out. I didn't sign up to be a sex counselor," he said.
But supporters of the new policy remain hopeful. "Rather than excluding people, we want more boys to benefit from Scouting, just as we have," Zach Wahls, founder and executive director of Scouts for Equality, said in a statement.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.