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Boy Scouts: Connecticut Yankee Council gets local input on gay ban

Yankee-CouncilShould the Boy Scouts lift a ban that prohibits gay members and leaders?

That was the subject of a town-hall style meeting on March 20 at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport, attended by Scout leaders and parents from across the state, including Katie Gregory of Weston.

The meeting was conducted by the Connecticut Yankee Council to give parents and leaders an opportunity to voice their opinions before the Boy Scout National Council votes on the issue in May.

Yankee Council President Michael Abrahamson, and Charles Flowers, Scout executive, also emailed surveys to Connecticut Boy Scout leaders and parents asking their thoughts on the ban.

Many Weston Scout leaders and parents responded to the survey, according to Harry Spencer, committee chairman of Weston’s Boy Scout Troop 788. “It is a polarizing and challenging topic, and we’ve had an open dialogue with the troop. I look forward to the council working through it,” he said.

Ms. Gregory, a Tiger Cub den leader with Weston Cub Scout Pack 75, said she was the only person from Weston who spoke at the council meeting. She spoke as an individual, not representing the pack.

“I support ending the ban,” she said.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest private youth organizations in America, but its membership has been on the decline in recent years and has dropped 22% since 1999, according to the BSA’s annual report.

As a condition of membership, all BSA members are required to promise to uphold the Boy Scout Oath and Scout Law.

The Boy Scout Oath says, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

The Scout Law states: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

The BSA has maintained that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the Scout Oath that a scout be “morally straight,” and the group bans open or avowed homosexual leaders or members.

The BSA’s legal right to this policy was upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court decision, which ruled in the group’s favor to maintain its membership restriction based on sexual orientation.

After a two-year study, the BSA reaffirmed its position to ban gay membership in 2012, which led to nationwide discussions about whether the group should change its membership policy to allow openly gay leaders and members.

The issue, however, is divisive.

The BSA’s reaffirmation did not sit well with two of its own National Executive Board members, Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, who have publicly supported ending the ban.

Numerous corporations and charities have also criticized the ban and have withdrawn BSA funding, including Chase Manhattan Bank, CVS Pharmacy, Levi Strauss, UPS, Merck, Intel, Pew Charitable Trusts, and some United Way groups.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest Boy Scout church sponsor, has so far remained supportive of the Scouts and the ban.

Yankee Council input

Ms. Gregory kept track of the number of speakers at the council meeting. She said 48 spoke in favor of changing the policy to allow gay members and leaders, while five said the policy should be left as it is.

Katie Gregory

Katie Gregory

She said several Scout leaders with 20 to 30 years of experience spoke positively about Scouts who made it through the program and were gay.

One man, she said, read a letter from his son, who said while the Boy Scout motto is “leave no man behind,” the ban unfortunately does leave some people behind.

Others spoke about the bad reputation the ban was causing the Boy Scout organization. “One man said he was advised by a career counselor to take Boy Scout leadership off his résumé because it has a black mark right now,” Ms. Gregory said.

Nationally, more than 100 petitions have been started on change.org by Scouts, Scout leaders, and scouting families, including Greg Edelston, an Eagle Scout from Greenwich, and have gathered more than 1.6 million signatures asking the BSA National Council to end its ban.

Ms. Gregory has been on both sides of the issue. She said her reasons for supporting an end to the ban are personal and religious.

She grew up in South Carolina, where she was a member of a conservative Southern Baptist church.

In the 1990s, she was offered an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World, but her church called for a boycott of Disney because it was offering medical benefits to gay couples, so she turned the trip down.

She then discovered that one of her close friends was gay and found herself praying for her friend to convert. “I was trying to pray the gay away and secretly trying to change her,” Ms. Gregory said.

But while studying the New Testament, Ms. Gregory had a revelation.

“When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds that it is to love God. Then without being asked, but wanting people to know, he went on to say that the second greatest commandment is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12: 29-31). Jesus did not say love people who think like you or act like you. He simply said love God, love people. I asked myself, can I do that?” she said.

Through her own spiritual journey, Ms. Gregory has learned to accept people and love them for who they are. “I’m fortunate, my friend stuck with me through my journey,” she said.

When it comes to scouting, she said, sexual orientation doesn’t preclude a young man from fulfilling and living up to the Boy Scout motto, slogan or laws.

She also noted the results of a March 2013 ABC/World News poll showing that 81% of adults under the age of 30 approved of gay marriage.

“This is our pool of future leaders. Boy Scouts of America could very well find itself on the endangered species list in 10 years if we do not recognize that the majority of Americans, now 58%, support gay marriage. Only 24% of Americans now consider homosexuality as something a person ‘chooses’ to be. The logical deduction would be that to 76% of Americans, Boy Scouts is excluding people based on a characteristic with which they were born,” she said.

She hopes the national council will reconsider and lift the ban. “Because I have a strong Christian background, I opted to use my faith as a reason for change, knowing the main opposition will also use their faith as a reason not to change. I challenge people to use this as an opportunity to show love despite differences. Have love for people instead of judgment and hatred. You can still have your opinion and truly love people,” she said.

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