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Boy Scouts rethinking ban on gays

| Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 12:34 a.m.

The Boy Scouts of America said on Monday it would allow chapters to set their own policies on allowing gay members and leaders if the national organization next week reverses its practice of banning them.

Under the proposed change, religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units could decide how to address the issue — either maintain an exclusion of gays or open membership.

Spokesman Deron Smith said the Boy Scouts “would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents.”

Cautious support in Valley

Although Scouting officials in Western Pennsylvania did not want to comment, the idea found at least cautious favor with three Alle-Kiski Valley residents who have been associated with Scouting.

Fox Chapel resident Dan Bagley, 52, a former Boy Scout whose 18-year-old son in October reached the highest rank, Eagle Scout, said he wouldn't take issue with gays serving as Scout leaders.

But he said discussions about sexual orientation do not belong in an organization about camping, life skills, honor and respect.

“I should never know (about anyone's sexual orientation). That's the part I have a hard time with, is why are we talking about very private matters,” Bagley said. “If this person is talking about being a Scout leader in terms of their sexual orientation, they're off the mark. It's inappropriate.”

Anthony Shea, a former volunteer with Troop 555 in Leechburg, said he thinks gays have a place in the Scouting community, but with a stipulation.

“I have nothing against gays being Scout leaders, as long as they keep their personal lives to themselves,” he said. “As long as it wasn't known to the scouts.”

Shea, who served in the Air Force for more than 22 years, said he doesn't think the Scouts' policy should be any different than the military's.

“I had no issue with homosexuals when I was serving either,” he said. “As long as they were doing their job, all of that didn't matter.”

Bob Barrage, Scoutmaster of the Birdville Troop 186, thinks allowing homosexuals in the Boy Scouts is long overdue.

Barrage provided the Valley News Dispatch with a 2010 letter he wrote to then-Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca in which Barrage asked Mazzuca to change the stance on gay members.

Barrage wrote:

“I wholeheartedly agree that the BSA has the right to set its own membership requirements, but I also believe that we have an ethical responsibility to align those requirements with the ideals of the movement,” Barrage said in his letter. “Reasonable people don't buy the nonsense that a gay leader will ‘convert' a heterosexual Scout by his example, nor that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia.”

The Boy Scouts celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2010, a time Barrage thought was perfect to change the group's policy barrng gays.

“A momentous anniversary like our offers a rare opportunity for serious re-evaluation and bold, far-sighted action,” Barrage wrote. “I hope we don't squander the opportunity.”

Gay rights activists welcomed the news.

“I think the ban has been very disruptive to young people,” said Betty Hill, executive director of Persad Center Inc. in Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood, the nation's second-oldest licensed counseling center specifically created for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

About 2.5 million boys participate in Cub and Boy Scouts under the supervision of almost 1 million Scout leaders, Boy Scouts said.

Monday's announcement of a possible change was made after years of protests over the policy, including petition campaigns that prompted some corporations to suspend donations.

The Boy Scouts long has excluded gays and atheists. Smith said the BSA, which views “Duty to God” as a basic principle, is not considering a policy change toward atheists.

Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the Supreme Court upheld the organization's right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhere to nondiscrimination policies.

More recently, shipping giant UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck said they would halt donations to the Boy Scouts from their charitable foundations as long as a no-gays policy remains.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. R.A. Monti is a freelance writer. Trib Total Media staff writer Tory N. Parrish and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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