The national organization of the Boy Scouts of America has voted to end its ban on gay men serving as troop leaders.
And while the news marks a change in course for an organization that has long resisted pressure to accept gays, the Scouts won’t have to look far for models when it comes to dealing with homosexual volunteers. The Girl Scouts of America hase never banned gays, and officials say that policy has served the organization very well.
Natalye Paquin, director of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, said the Boy Scouts will probably find what her group learned long ago: the less you discriminate, the bigger your pool of potential volunteers.
“I know that there is a lot of research [showing] that organizations, companies, countries, communities that are inclusive are stronger, and usually more profitable — because they are relying on all the talents that are available to that community,” she said.
Paquin said the Girl Scouts teach all their volunteers — gay or otherwise — to tread lightly around issues of sexuality and religion. The goal is to help young women develop their own leadership skills, she said, but not to drive any particular agenda beyond the organization’s longstanding commitment to “inclusiveness.”
“We actually ask and train our counselors and volunteers that matters of sexuality, faith, religion, is really appropriate for the family to discuss,” she said. “It’s not an area that we as the Girl Scouts venture into.”
Even if a young person comes to a troop leader with a problem she can’t talk about with immediate family, Paquin said the volunteer’s first goal will be to help the young person find some other trusted adult she can turn to. If that fails, she said, the policy is to help the scout find support from an outside groups or organization with more experience dealing with the Scout’s specific issues, she said.
The Boy Scouts new ruling only applies to those troops that aren’t organized by religious groups — about 30 percent of the total. It was greeted with praise by Philadelphia’s Cradle of Liberty Scout chapter, which has supported acceptance for gay Scouts.
But reaction from religious groups was more divided. While the Philadelphia Archdiocese did not respond to a request for comment, a national advisory group called the National Catholic Committee on Scouting urged churches to stay the course and sponsor troops, despite members’ concerns about their independence.
“The resolution … affirms the chartered organization’s right to select its unit leaders based on its religious principles, rejects any interference with that right, and provides that local Scout councils will not interfere with chartered organizations’ rights,” the committee said in a statement. “It is not entirely clear how these rights will be squared with previous policy changes the Boy Scouts have made, or how they will work in practice, but it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching.”
But the Mormon Church, which sponsors more troops than any other faith, is considering cutting ties with the Boy Scouts over the policy, which officials have said is “inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church.”