Boy Scout supporters air opinions on gay membership

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
MARK BARBERNITZ

Despite being asked to remember Boy Scout manners, a few people at a meeting Monday night made personal attacks on speakers with different opinions than theirs. The Mason-Dixon Council of Boy Scouts of America hosted an information and sharing session at Greencastle-Antrim High School.

Leaders and parents were invited to give input on whether BSA should alter its membership policy. A movement was underway asking the 103-year-old organization to admit openly gay members, which was seen by others as violating the moral standards of the youth-oriented group.

Mark Barbernitz, Executive Director of the local council, presided over the meeting, which was attended by about 50 people. He was assisted by Scout board members Bill Hoffman, Paul Schemel, John Williamson and Jeanne Singer.

Barbernitz addressed the crowd, "You have a passion. You know what Scouting does for young people - values, ethics, leadership training. This issue is a distraction. After the May vote, we need to get back and focus on the kids."

At the May 22 National Annual Meeting in Grapevine, Texas, the Mason-Dixon Council will cast two votes out of the 2,000 expected, with a simple majority needed to overturn the membership standards.

They were last reaffirmed in 2012, but since then National received a 1.5 million-signature petition asking it to relax the requirements. A series of events with members and leaders took place that caught the media's attention, said Barbernitz, so National did not make a decision in February, but decided to let stakeholders give input on the controversy. That included charter organizations, parents, and financial, fundraising and legal concerns.

Singer said volunteers with Mason-Dixon would know how the council reps voted, but the community as whole would not.

"But we are struggling with tweets and Facebook to keep it that way," she said.

Schemel explained that BSA's policy had been upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court decision, but activists were pushing for the change. Hoffman reviewed the Youth Protection Policy, with every volunteer required to undergo mandatory training every other year, and no 1-1 contact between a child and leader was allowed. The policy was a model for other youth organizations, he said.

Opinions

During the open forum, the Scouting family at large shared their thoughts on a potential national change in membership requirements.

The majority favored leaving things as they were. The following were some of the comments.

"Boy Scouts of America has never discriminated. We only oppose open or avowed homosexuality."

"Corporate America is pressuring us."

"There will be practical concerns. Older Scouts can be consenting partners."

"A reversal would mean saying BSA used to discriminate. My church would withdraw its charter and families would drop Scouts."

"In trying to accommodate five to six percent of the population, we're tearing something good and wonderful apart."

"Money and an agenda is influencing this. Will it next affect our religious values?"

"This is a moral argument, not a molestation issue."

"A local charter church says no to changing the policy, but would keep the charter. However, I will quit as a leader and pull my son out."

"We believe in Scripture. God has not changed the rules. My church is looking into other religious organizations for the youth."

"As a scoutmaster, it's not easy. Who is going to sleep with who in tents?"

A few spoke in favor of allowing avowed gays into membership.

"Homosexuals are also in schools, and they are not child molesters. Are we not all sinners?"

"As adults, kids won't live in a bubble, but will associate with all kinds of people."

"The U.S. used to discriminate against women and blacks, based on Biblical principles. Statistics don't show that gays are more likely to molest children. It's time to put homophobia behind us."

"Sexual orientation does not correlate to a person's character."

A charged topic

Barbernitz acknowledged that no matter what decision was reached at the national convention, there would be a public outcry, and pressures on funding and membership.

Under present conditions, sexuality was not a part of Boy Scouts.

"We never ask about orientation," he said. "There are gay boys in Scouts, and gay leaders. If anyone becomes avowed, it is up to the charter organization to deal with it."

The council has 100 scouting units sponsored by 63 chartering organizations. Seventy percent of them are church-based.