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Local Scouting parents mixed about possible change in gay policy

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 9:46 p.m.
A Boy Scouts of America uniform is pictured in San Diego, California, in this Oct. 18, 2012, file photo. Boy Scouts of America is discussing ending a longstanding ban on gay members and whether to allow local organizations to decide their own policy, a spokesman said on Monday. The organization has been under attack from gay rights groups and some parents for discriminating against gay members and gay leaders. REUTERS

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.

Though Scouting officials in Western Pennsylvania did not want to comment, the idea brought mixed reaction from some longtime Scouting parents.

“That's a national policy that we have no control over,” said Mike Surbaugh, executive director of Laurel Highlands Council of the Boy Scouts of America. “No decision has been made.”

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.”

Some parents find the policy shift worrisome.

“I guess it would be,” said Beverly Vought of Saltsburg. “To me, Boy Scouting is supposed to be a nice thing for boys to get out in the wilderness. ... I don't want to have to start worrying about ulterior motives.”

Her older son is an Eagle Scout, and her younger son is working on his Eagle project.

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 Bloomfield, the nation's second-oldest licensed counseling center specifically established to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

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.”

“That hasn't been an issue with this particular troop,” said the Rev. B. DeNeice Welch, pastor at Bidwell United Presbyterian Church, which sponsors Troop 281. She declined to say whether the church would continue its support if the policy changes.

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, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, 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.

The Associated Press and Trib Total Media staff writer Tory N. Parrish contributed to this story. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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