Assistant den leaders James Tyler Miner, right, and Joe Howard, center, prepare to help Cub Scouts slide down a hill during an event at Ford Park in
Assistant den leaders James Tyler Miner, right, and Joe Howard, center, prepare to help Cub Scouts slide down a hill during an event at Ford Park in Redlands on Aug. 28. ( (Rachel Luna / Staff Photographer))
The Boys Scouts of America is revisiting its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members, and leaders of at least one Southern California Cub Scout troop is pleased with the change.

Under the change being discussed, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue - either maintaining an exclusion of gays or opening up their membership.

This potential loosening of the reins is just what the leadership at Redlands' Pack 24 was seeking when it took a stand in August saying it refused to bar participation on the basis of sexual orientation.

"My first reaction is `hooray!' This is wonderful news," said Redlands Cubmaster James Rich. "I think it's a very positive step in the right direction by the BSA, and I think they are doing the right thing."

Monday's announcement of the possible change comes after years of protests over the policy - including petition campaigns that have prompted some corporations to suspend donations to the Boy Scouts.

Under the proposed change, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith, "the Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents."

The Redlands pack took its stand in August when Rich met with his Cub Scout parents saying he could not continue as cubmaster if the parents opposed the BSA's stance. One parent opposed the stand, but the remainder backed Rich.

The board of Pack 24 wrote the BSA informing it that it would not exclude anyone on the basis of sexual orientation, and risked losing its charter.

Since that decision, the pack and Rich have received positive impact from many about the group's decision, he said. "Overall, it has been positive messages that we have been receiving."

The Monday announcement by the BSA comes several months after the organization experienced its fair share of fallout and support of a decision last year to maintain its policy.

Boy Scouts of America’s Jack Dembo Scout Center in Redlands.
Boy Scouts of America's Jack Dembo Scout Center in Redlands.

Some current and former members around the nation have returned medals and badges to the organization, asking BSA officials to reconsider its stance on not granting memberships to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals.

"For more than 100 years Scouting's focus has been on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve," the BSA said Monday in an mailed statement.

Though the BSA is in discussion to potentially remove the national restriction regarding sexual orientation, the charter organization that oversees local Scout packs will ultimately make the decision and decide for themselves how to address the issue, the organization said.

"This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs," the statement continues.

"BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.

Den leader James Rich talks with Cub Scouts during an activity.
Den leader James Rich talks with Cub Scouts during an activity.
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For many troops and parents, the issue has not been a topic of discussion.

"In my case, the issue hasn't come up because I really don't believe in segregating or whatever you want to call it," said Deanna Palmer, who serves as scoutmaster of Troop 854 in San Pedro, which is sponsored by the local Lions Club. "Basically, don't ask, don't tell. So I haven't ever had a problem with it."

But if it came to making a decision about admitting or denying gay members, Palmer said she'd rather have that authority rather than leaving it to the San Pedro Lions Club.

"They don't know the kids or their parents" in the same way, said Palmer, who has been involved in the program for 30 years. "I think it should be left up to the scoutmasters."

Nationally, the protest campaigns that have occurred have been with help from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from Scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong," said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD's president. "Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."

The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy as recently as last year, and appeared to have strong backing from conservative religious denominations - notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists - which sponsor large numbers of Scout units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.

Smith said the change could be announced as early as Feb. 6, after BSA's national board holds a regularly scheduled meeting.

Staff writer Kristin S. Agostini and The Associated Press contributed to this article.


kristina.hernandez@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-259-9321, @TheFactsKris.