—Could a Scout march in uniform in a gay-pride parade? No, says the BSA. “Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting’s official uniforms and insignia when doing so.”
—How publicly active could a gay Scout be, in terms of gay-rights advocacy? The BSA’s reply: “While a youth member may acknowledge his or her sexual preference, that acknowledgment may not reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion, or the distribution of information of a sexual nature.”
A frequently-asked-questions document anticipates that some objections might surface from parents — or Scouts themselves — in cases where a unit includes an openly gay boy.
Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA says it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.
“The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations,” the BSA says.
Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders.
“If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored,” says the BSA.
Haddock says “isolated pockets” of problems are likely to surface, but overall he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.
There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA’s exclusion of gay youth and gay adults.
Among the major sponsors, the Southern Baptist Convention made clear its disappointment with the new youth policy, but left the decision on whether to cut ties up to local churches. An SBC spokesman, Sing Oldham, said it was not known how many churches have done so.
The biggest sponsor of Scout units — the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — commended the BSA for a “thoughtful, good-faith effort” to address a challenging issue, and said it would stay engaged in Scouting.
John Gailey of the Utah National Parks Council, the nation’s largest council, said its youth membership had increased from 74,148 in December 2012 to 75,863 this month.
Like the Mormons, the Roman Catholic Church has generally accepted the new policy. Many parishes will continue to sponsor Scout units, though a few have considered cutting ties.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting posted a question-and-answer document on its website, delving into the intersection of Scouting policy and Catholic teaching.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that individuals who disclose a same-sex attraction are to be treated with the same dignity due all human beings … and also teaches that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is always immoral,” says the Q-and-A, concluding that the new BSA policy does not contradict Catholic teaching.
The ultimate decision on whether parishes would maintain or cut ties with the BSA was left to individual bishops. Several expressed cautious support for continuing in Scouting.
“As the new policy currently stands, I see no reason to prohibit our parishes from sponsoring Boy Scout troops,” said Rev. Kevin Rhoades, bishop of Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese. “At the same time, it is critical that we be vigilant on how this new policy is interpreted and implemented.”
One likely target of such scrutiny will be former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, scheduled to take over in the spring as the BSA’s next president. As leader of the Pentagon, Gates helped change the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning openly gay soldiers, and gay-rights groups hope he will try to end the BSA’s ban on gay adult leaders.