July 29, 2015

Local leaders react to Boy Scouts’ new policy




Staff Reporter

HOMER — The National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America voted Monday to stop banning openly gay adults from serving as troop leaders and employees of the organization, a move that leaves it up to local Scout units to choose their own leaders.
Previously, the national restriction would have prevented gay adults from serving as volunteer leaders or being hired for positions in regional councils.
Scouts sponsored by religious organizations can still ban openly gay adults from those positions, based on the beliefs of those groups.
Local troop leaders did not express opposition to the change and indicated it would not result in changes locally since they say applicants for Scout leadership posts have not been excluded on the basis of sexual orientation in the past.
James Bugh, leader of Troop 81 which is sponsored by Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES and meets in Homer High School, called the change in policy “long overdue.”
However, he indicated that others may not feel the same. While he never encountered an individual who was excluded from Boy Scouts on the basis of sexual orientation, Bugh said that many former Boy Scout members expressed concern when the national organization lifted the ban on openly gay Scouts in 2013.
Steve Hayes, who leads Explorer Post 1205, which is sponsored by the Homer Fire Department, said Tuesday he has no stance on the change of policy. He said that it would not impact his post because the department is a municipal agency.
“We’ve always been open to anyone who wants to volunteer,” Hayes said.
Mike Brown, commissioner of the Taughannock District, which oversees Scout units in Cortland and other area counties, said Tuesday that he is not aware of any cases locally in which a Scout leader applicant was denied a position on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The selection of leaders is and always has been through the life of BSA the province of the sponsoring organization,” Brown said, adding that local troops have always been in charge of selecting adult volunteer leaders without oversight from the national organization.
“What they’re (the national organization) is basically saying is ... it’s up to you to determine if a leader is fit or not, and that’s the reason for this distinction,” Brown said.
He added that some local groups have exercised their religious beliefs in appointing volunteer adult leaders, a practice that will still be allowed despite the change in national policy.
Michael May, leader of Troop 79 in Homer, which is sponsored by St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church, said his troop has always been inclusive.
“We respect everybody; that’s what we try to do,” May said, adding that the troop focuses on providing learning experiences for young Scouts.
He said applicants for leadership positions are vetted in a rigorous process and that there have been applicants who did not pass a background check for various reasons, including criminal histories.
Robert M. Gates, the national president of BSA, said in a video message posted to the organization’s website on Monday that the lifting of the restriction on gay leaders while allowing religious beliefs to guide hiring decisions, essentially ensures each troop sponsor can pick leaders who they feel share their core beliefs.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse did not offer comment on the revised policy, Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the Diocese, said Tuesday.

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