National leadership of the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to allow gay youth to join the organization, overturning a long tradition of excluding gays.
“Scouting is available to all youth,” Doug Nelson, scout executive/CEO of the Miami Valley Council, said after the results were reported. “And our communities are better off that all our youth are served.”
Meeting in the Dallas suburb of Grapevine, the 1,400 members of the BSA’s National Council repealed a ban that excluded youth from the organization based only on sexual orientation. A ban on gay adult leaders remains in place.
More than 60 percent of the members supported the proposal.
Nelson said the reaction when the results were read was one of relief. “It was like now we can go back to our business of helping the youth of our communities,” he said.
Scouting was established in 1910 and claims 2.6 million Scouts in the U.S., in addition to thousands of leaders and volunteers.
“Our executive board remains committed to delivering scouting to the Miami Valley regardless of the outcome of the vote,” Nelson said earlier this week. “The thing that we know for sure is that kids need scouting today as much as they will … a week after the vote.”
The Miami Valley Council includes more than 10,000 scouts and 2,800 volunteers in Montgomery, Preble, Greene, Miami and Shelby counties.
David Mauch, district director of the Tecumseh Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which includes Clark County, said he and his district don’t have a stance on the issue. “As an executive, I’m here to serve my community,” he said before the vote.
He declined to comment further and directed questions to the national office.
“This vote marks a monumental step forward for the Boy Scouts of America,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “We are thrilled for the gay youth who will no longer be turned away from scouting simply because of who they are.’
Carey said the group would continue to push BSA leadership to drop the ban on gay adult leaders.
Two conservative groups opposed to any easing of the ban — the Family Research Council and OnMyHonor.net — placed an ad Thursday in the Dallas Morning News warning that lifting the ban on gay youth would trigger lawsuits that could force the BSA to admit gay adults as well as youth. It said lifting the ban on gay boys could drive out as many as 400,000 Scouts.
Nelson said he had no direct indications of any scouts or sponsors leaving the council because of the decision. “There is always a risk any time there is a major change,” he said.
Research published on the BSA website found a majority of “adults in the Scouting community” support the current ban, but a majority of current Boy Scouts and Venture scouts do not, according to the findings. About 48 percent of parents of current Scouts support the policy, down from 57 percent three years ago.
Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions, both liberal and conservative. Some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have previously supported the broad ban — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in April that it supports the new proposal, and the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has not opposed it.
However, 50 leaders of other conservative religious groups issued a statement imploring the National Council to retain the full ban, warning that easing it “would open the Scouts to a wide range of open sexual expressions.”
The signatories included the leaders of the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to exclude gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout councils made public their displeasure with the policy.
“It’s very unfortunate that the political agendas of many have stepped into the Scouting world where we really want to focus on delivering a scouting program to young people and developing their lives for the better,” Nelson said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.