Scouts’ ban on gays stands for now, but bitter public debate rages on
02/07/2013 6:19 AM
02/07/2013 6:19 AM
IRVING – It may have been a no-decision, but to some of the protesters outside the Boy Scouts of America headquarters Wednesday, it was still a victory of sorts because – at least until May – the ban on gay scouts and leaders stands.
Travis Monk hopes it stays that way.
If the organization changes its long-standing policy – and decides to allow gay scouts and adults as members – Monk, a 14-year-old from Arlington, will no longer be part of the group.
The scouts are under a lot of political pressure – from no less than President Barack Obama – to end the policy.
“If they lift their ban, my dad, brother and I will all leave,” said Monk, a home schooled ninth-grader who could become an Eagle Scout within a year. “We don’t believe homosexuality is right.
“It’s an abomination to God,” he said. “And it’s against the Scout oath.”
Monk was among the more than 200 people who gathered for a “Save Our Scouts” prayer rally outside the Boy Scouts of America’s national headquarters in Irving Wednesday morning, protesting a potential change in the more than century-old organization.
The protesters learned that members of the national council delayed a decision on whether to lift the ban, which had been expected this week, until May – something Jonathan Saenz, who organized the rally, declared a victory.
“The Boy Scouts of America have decided not to change their policy at this time,” Saenz, president of Texas Values, a conservative Austin-based group, said to loud applause and cheers. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Saenz read to the crowd a written statement the Boy Scouts distributed at the rally.
It said that “the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.
“To that end, the executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns,” according to the statement. “The approximately 1,400-voting members of the national council will take action on the resolution at the national meeting in May 2013.”
The organization announced last week that it was considering removing the ban against gay members, prompting officials nationwide – from Obama, who supports lifting the ban, to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who supports leaving the policy as it is – to weigh in. The group garnered worldwide attention this week, as members of the executive board gathered for three days of meetings in Irving.
During Wednesday’s 1 1/2-hour long rally, some supporters of the current policy carried signs that read: “God votes no gays,” “God’s final warning,” “What happened to ‘for God and country’” and “Save Our Scouts.”
Scouts there prayed, sang, waved small American flags and called on each other to support the current policy.
Tami Cooke of Richardson said she hopes national leaders do not change the policy later this year – or ever.
“We don’t want homosexuals around our sons,” said Cooke, who has one son in Boy Scouts. “We’re not filled with hate. We just feel that if they really want to go camping and build a tent, they can start their own group.”
While those gathered at the prayer rally supported leaving the policy alone, other Scouts spoke out in favor of the change.
David Montague of Fort Worth has spent more than a decade being involved with the Boy Scouts – as an assistant scout master, a scout master, a scout leader and more.
And he believes it’s time for the Boy Scouts to change the way things are done.
“I think it’s long overdue for scouting to recognize that it should be open to all persons,” said Montague, a former Tarrant County prosecutor who specialized in cases involving child abuse. “Anybody the local group wants to have as a leader, that should be up to the local leadership as long as there is no threat to the children. And being gay isn’t a threat.”
He said he believes the Boy Scouts shouldn’t rush into a decision on the issue and said he hopes leadership finds a balance between inclusion and allowing local groups that partner with troops – such as churches, schools and other sponsors – to have a voice as well.
“I fully support the change in procedure, and the removal of this ban,” he said.
Lee Henderson, who became an Eagle Scout when he was 15, said he also would like to see a change in policy.
“I personally do not believe it is the Scout Way to exclude young men or adult leaders on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Henderson, 35, of Fort Worth. “I do not agree that the Scout Oath’s ‘morally straight’ judges a particular sexual orientation as immoral.
“Church denominations don’t all agree either,” he said. “When you get down to relying on only the Old Testament’s Leviticus as your law of morality, then I think you’ve lost already.”
No change needed
During the rally, some speakers said this issue is more than about sexuality. It’s about the country’s moral fiber.
“In Texas, we are not afraid to acknowledge, with reverence, that the principles we stand on are from God,” said Dave Welch,Ö a Houston pastor and director of the Texas Pastors Council. “We’re not standing here against or for, but on those principles.
“We have no choice.”
Many at the rally said they worry national leaders will cave in to pressures from those who financially contribute to the organization. Others predict that membership will dramatically drop if leaders change the anti-gay policy.
For Timothy Baird, a 13-year-old Scout from Arlington, it’s a very simple issue.
“It’s not right to have leaders that are sexually immoral,” said Baird, an eighth-grader. “It’s not right for the Scouts.”
Lana Baird, who home schools her son Timothy and two other children, said the debate over the Scout’s anti-gay policy is something her family frequently discusses.
“We’ve been very upset about this,” said Lana Baird, of Arlington. “(Those who want the policy changed) are bullying the Boy Scouts into doing something we don’t agree with.”
But she said the national board’s move to delay a decision on the issue is wrong.
“It’s quite cowardly on their part,” she said. “They have an outpouring of suggestions. They are not making the hard choice in choosing.”
So between now and May, she and others say they will be writing letters and emails, and making phone calls, to elected officials and Scout leaders alike.
“This is something we really believe in,” Lana Baird said.
Officials weigh in
A group of elected officials in Texas earlier this week signed an open letter encouraging the Boy Scouts to uphold their traditional position and reject a change in the organization’s homosexuality policy.
“We urge you to be morally and physically strong. We urge you to protect all that scouting has been and all that it can remain,” according to the letter that includes the signatures of GOP state Sens. Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth and Brian Birdwell of Granbury and GOP state Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Matt Krause and Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, Phil King of Weatherford, Bill Zedler of Arlington and Jonathan Stickland of Bedford. U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, also signed the letter.
Longtime Eagle Scout U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions said it’s a good idea for the Boy Scouts of America to review its policy.
The Dallas Republican doesn’t want to weigh in on what the organization should do, but he said he hopes the group follows its general mission statement.
“The Boy Scouts ... are having a realistic discussion among themselves and this is healthy and this is good,” Sessions has said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, was a Boy Scout growing up as well – and he believes the policy should stay the same.
“Scouting was an important part of my youth. It taught me the importance of family, friendship, community service, responsibility and leadership. It was a great learning experience that I credit with setting me up for success as an adult,” said Barton, who achieved the rank of Life Scout. “I support the Boy Scouts of America’s long standing stance on sexual orientation and think the national board should continue to stand by the family values and morals that make Scouting so special.”