Boy Scout gay-inclusion idea draws local input

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 224 views 

A resolution to be voted on in May by the Boy Scouts of America could allow openly homosexual youth to participate in the program and it has stirred strong emotions nationally and locally for and against the potential change.

“In May, the National Executive Committee is asking its approximately 1,400 voting members to consider a proposed resolution that would remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone and would maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America,” noted a statement from the Boy Scouts of America. “The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

Locally, the Western Arkansas Council of the Boy Scouts of America has not been vocal on the issue, but Christian Swaim, assistant scout executive of the Western Arkansas Council, said his group was able to provide feedback to the national organization regarding the change and took advantage of the opportunity. The Fort Smith-based Westark Council has about 6,500 members in its 17-county area – which includes Northwest Arkansas over to Mountain Home and south to Pope County.

"Boy Scouts of America had a feedback phase, or a listening phase, so our council's individual summary along with that of all the councils were included in the membership standards report," he said. "Our views helped provide specific input."

The local council, which Swaim said includes 221 different scouting units and more than 6,500 members, has generally held the same belief about a change in policy allowing openly gay youth to participate in the program.

"I would tell you that generally, the support from the council has been to keep the (current) membership standards in place."

He said even with the proposed change to eligibility requirements for potential scouts, openly gay parents would still be left out of leadership roles within the organization.

Karrie Papacoda, a cub master for Pack 45 in Van Buren, said she had briefly addressed the situation with parents and made it clear that until knowing what the final policy of the Boy Scouts would be, she would recommend no action by her group.

"We're just going to move forward like we normally would until we hear the vote," she said.

Papacoda said individuals within the organization were contacted randomly by phone and e-mail in order for the national organization to decide on possible inclusion of gay youth. At no point was the pack as a whole interviewed or surveyed.

She said her own personal opinion was in favor of allowing gay youth to participate in the Scouts.

"I don't think it's a sexual orientation question that should be put on any sort of application or anything. I think all the boys should be extended the same opportunity regardless," she said.

Even though she is in favor of including gay youth in the organization, she still is against leaders being openly gay due to her religious beliefs, though she added that "there's not anything you can check on an application to check sexual orientation."

The Royal Rangers, an Assembly of God-affiliated alternative to the Boy Scouts, has openly expressed its disappointment in the possible eligibility change at the Boy Scouts.

In a statement its website, Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, made clear his religious denomination's view on the topic.

"Homosexual behavior contradicts biblical teachings and God’s created order for the family and human relationships. We pray BSA will give careful consideration to this matter and hold firm to the beliefs that have made it a strong and influential organization for more than 100 years."

Anthony Hubbard, an outpost committee chairman and National Historian for the organization, has been an active member of the Royal Rangers in the Fort Smith area for many years, both as a participant and a leader.

He said while he could not speak to national issues or as a representative of the organization, normally questions of inclusion or leadership are left to local pastors at sponsoring churches.

"Any boys under the age of 18 are welcome to attend Royal Ranger Meetings. But under leadership, that's the exclusive right of the local pastor," he said. "Because the Royal Rangers is a closed organization, we don't ask for any federal funding and we don't get anything from the United Way. What we do, we pay for. And the local church can say yes or no to the leaders."

While membership is not necessarily exclusive to church members, Hubbard said the controversy surrounding the Boy Scouts has not led to an increase in interest in the organization at a local level.

Regardless of what decision is made by the Boy Scouts of America about inclusion of gay youth, Swaim said the Western Arkansas Council would still be a part of the Scouts and he does not expect Scouts to flee to alternative groups, such as Royal Rangers.

"We are going to do what is in the best interest of the Scouts and the scouting program here in Arkansas," he said. "That means to continue supporting our charter partners (the national Boy Scouts of America)."