Discussion about whether Boy Scouts of America should change its policy excluding gay scouts and leaders is again thrusting the youth development organization into the middle of a national debate.
But already, there is more diversity than the national policy might make people think — and some troops currently accept boys regardless of sexual orientation.
“There is no box on the registration form that says, ‘Are you gay?’ ” said the Rev. Dr. Bill Levering, senior pastor of First Reformed Church in Schenectady and a longtime Scout leader.
He said Boy Scout Troop 1, sponsored by the church, makes clear that it is an “inclusive organization,” despite the current national policy.
Such positions among troop-sponsoring organizations would become more common if the national executive board, meeting this week near Dallas, votes to change current policy. President Barack Obama on Sunday endorsed opening the organization to gays.
The proposed change would leave it up to sponsors — about 70 percent of which are religious organizations — to set a policy on gay members for the troops they sponsor.
It isn’t clear whether the executive committee will take a vote during the meeting, which ends today.
“No decision has been made on whether or not there will be a vote. If the board reviews the matter and votes on it, it will be Wednesday,” Deron Smith, national spokesman for Boy Scouts of America, stated in an email Tuesday.
Richard Stockton, executive director of the Twin Rivers Council, which is based in Albany and oversees Scout troops in northeastern New York, said the council will be guided by national policy, and there will be no comment until after a decision is made. Twin Rivers, with about 11,000 Scouts, is not represented on the national executive committee.
What’s under consideration would change a policy the Boy Scouts of America has had in place since 1978 and reaffirmed as recently as last summer. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the group’s right, as a private, values-based organization, to have such a policy.
However, the policy has led to cuts in some corporate and United Way support, when those organizations said the policy contradicted their own non-discrimination policies.
But some people want to keep things the way they are. The proposed change is prompting email and phone campaigns from those who support the current policy.
Citizens United and the Family Research Council are among the organizations calling on their supporters to contact national Scout leaders, urging them to maintain a stance in support of “traditional values.”
“Consider the kind of message we would be sending our sons if we tell them, ‘When we take the BSA oath and recite the Scout Law, we mean one thing — but the guys in the troop at the church down the street mean something completely different,’ ” Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president of the Family Research Council, wrote in an editorial published Tuesday.
“Boys should be allowed to be boys, and teens allowed to be teens, without the compulsory introduction of controversial sexual issues at a young age,” he wrote.
Religious organizations that generally oppose homosexuality — including the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches — are among the largest national sponsors of Boy Scout troops.
Advocates for gay and lesbian rights are supporting the proposed change, even if they feel it doesn’t go far enough. Scouting, with its emphasis on leadership development, is a good program for all youths, they said.
“It’s a great program and a great loss for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth that they can’t participate in a program that could really foster their development,” said Curran Streett, executive director of the Pride Center for the Capital Region in Albany.
Nationwide, Boy Scout participation has dropped 22 percent since 1999, to just less than 2.6 million youths.
“Culturally, there’s been a really big shift toward acceptance, and I think lack of acceptance has really affected them,” Streett said.
The Girl Scouts of the USA have a much different sexual orientation policy than the Boy Scouts of America and have accepted lesbians as members and leaders for a number of years.
Levering has been involved in Scouting continuously for more than four decades, since he became a Cub Scout at age 6. He has founded three troops, as well as currently leading the troop at First Reformed.
“Since there are so many sponsoring organizations that are of a conservative bent, I think this is a good compromise,” Levering said. “I think it’s a place they have to go.”
The former Eagle Scout said the controversy shouldn’t distract from the good work that Scouting does for those who participate.
“Many of the great achievements of Boy Scouts of America are extremely extraneous to sexual orientation issues,” Levering said.