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Proposed Changes to Allow Homosexuals as Members of Boy Scouts of America Stir Strong Feelings on Both Sides

Boy Scouts of America
Boy Scouts of America

[KSMU's Scott Harvey contributed to this story]

Boy Scouts of America is expected to decide tomorrow (2/6) whether or not to eliminate the decades-long ban on homosexuals as members of the group.  If the change is implemented, local scouting units would be able to decide for themselves whether or not to allow in gay members.

People have strong opinions on both sides of the issue.  Jonathan Mendenhall, a district finance chairman in the Branson area is an Eagle Scout and has been involved with Boy Scouts of America for 28 years since he was seven, and he worked for a time as director of Boy Scout camps.

He argues that not allowing gays to participate in scouting contradicts the goals of the organization…

"If at the time they need us most they come and say that they're gay as a youth, and we turn around and ask them to not be involved in our organization anymore because they stood up for what they thought that they were or thought that they needed to say, I don't think it lives up to the values that we try to instill in scouting," he said.

But Eric Farris, director of the Branson Tea Party Coalition and a Branson attorney and radio talk show host, is concerned about the proposed change.  Farris is a father of two boys—one a Boy Scout and one a Cub Scout and has volunteered as a den leader and helped out on camping trips.

He says he’s worried about homosexual scout leaders working with what he calls “young, impressionable teens during their sexually formative years.”  But he says he knows not all homosexual men are pedophiles…

"Most people would feel uncomfortable with, for example, a group of adult men taking a group of teenage girls on primitive, out of the area camping trips, and I think the same type of concern would be there in a case of men who would have attraction to people of the same sex, again, taking teenage boys on the same type of camping trips," he said.

One of the more ridiculous arguments against rescinding the ban, according to Mendenhall, is that gays will try to get involved in scouting just to promote their agenda or to harm kids.  While he admits there are bad people who would want to harm children, it’s not a valid argument to prevent homosexuals from serving as Boy Scout leaders…

"And, yes, there are pedophiles in our society.  Yes, there are people that do bad things to children all the time, but at the same time saying that we wouldn't let gays or homosexuals become involved as leaders because they might do something to our child would be the same argument as saying we shouldn't let women be involved because women school teachers go around and sleep with little boys as well," he said.

Some believe money is at the heart of the proposed change. Several large corporations have dropped their support of Boy Scouts of America since the organization recently affirmed its policy against allowing gays as members.  Farris says a decision to change the membership policy would impact the organization further in that other organizations would withhold funds, too…

"I think personally that what will happen is is that many of these sponsoring organizations such as large churches may well break away  and either set up their own scouting organizations or at least they'll break away in at least some form or respect.  I think regardless of that I think there are a lot of parents out there who would make the decision of whether to bring their children back out of scouting or even if they continue with scouting, I can see a real lack of enthusiasm for anything financial in nature coming from these families other than just payment of dues," he said.

Mendenhall says the ban on gays leaves out adults who would otherwise be willing to volunteer for the organization.  And he says Boy Scout leaders shouldn’t be discussing their sexual orientation with the kids anyway…

"We're supposed to be there to guide and lead the scouts, not to promote our own sexuality or our own religious beliefs or anything else.  It's supposed to be there to be guiding and leading these kids on the right path of society," he said.

Farris says if Boy Scouts of America starts changing things and trying to create what he calls a social experiment they’ll take on a big risk that they could be placing children in danger.

He says most scouting units have sponsors such as churches, and those organizations want the units they’re sponsoring to reflect their values and beliefs…

"And those would include, of course, you know, expectations to abide by judeo-christian values, and I think when you have, you know, a scout leader, someone in a position of influence who would have, you know, by most of those standards according to those, you know, christian, judeo-christian teachings, then you're going to bring a conflict into that in between the longstanding, you know, moral high ground that they've had all these years and where they would be now," he said.

He says allowing individual units to decide whether or not to allow homosexuals as members could open up those groups to lawsuits.

Mendenhallsays this proposed change was bound to come up just like the rescinding of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and allowing women to serve in combat since this nation was built upon the idea that we don’t discriminate against people.

KSMU contacted the Boy Scouts Ozark Trails Council for comment, but they politely declined, saying they’ll comment after the decision is announced.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.