Saturday February 2, 2013

The Boy Scouts of America is discussing changing its national policy regarding sexual orientation.

The change being discussed within Boy Scouts of America would allow the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units to decide for themselves how to handle sexual orientation.

But the policy change wouldn’t affect local organizations, which would uphold their membership policy that says sexuality of any kind that deters from the group’s mission of fostering youth could be grounds for removal, according to David Kruse, the scout executive of Boy Scouts of America Western Massachusetts Council.

"If members keep the mission of scouting as more important than talking about sexuality, then there’s no problem," he said. "We’re not kicking out anybody out of scouting locally for being gay."

The Western Massachusetts Council serves scouts and scout leaders in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.

The wording of the national organization’s policy on homosexuality has changed over the years. It currently states that it does not inquire individuals about their sexual orientation, but that membership is not granted to individuals who are openly homosexual or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the association’s mission.

The local council’s statement on membership states "Promoting sexual behavior or orientation within the confines of the Scouting program is inappropriate, and may hinder, distract, or prevent the Western Mass. Council from attaining its long sought and well-established goal of fostering the development of youth."

The change could take effect after the organization’s national board concludes a closed meeting on Feb. 6, according to Deron Smith, spokesman for the organization.

When the change is adopted, he said, "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs."

Neither the local council nor the national organization inquire about a person’s sexual orientation, according to Kruse.

"I’m sure there are homosexuals involved in scouting throughout the country," he said.

In an emailed statement, Jason Verchot, the president of Berkshire Stonewall Coalition, said that he doesn’t "believe that the stated change in policy for BSA is really anything other than an attempt to placate their numerous supporters and critics."

"I don’t believe it represents a change in attitude so much as an attempt to dodge the bullet," Verchot added.

The Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition supports the well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people of the Berkshires.

"It’s not a great victory, but considering [the Boy Scouts of America’s] unwavering stance on this matter, it’s still a victory nonetheless," Verchot said in the statement.

In another email statement sent later, Verchot said that for the Western Massachusetts Council’s statement on membership to suggest that the mention of sexual orientation, as in admitting to being gay, is somehow on the same page as displayed sexual behavior is "a little insulting."

New data have shown that membership in the Cub Scouts -- the BSA’s biggest division -- dropped sharply last year, and is down more than 30 percent over the past 14 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

To reach Adam Poulisse: apoulisse @berkshireeagle.com, or (413)
496-6214. On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse