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Scouts vote to include gay youths

scoutsWhen the Boy Scouts of America voted en masse Thursday on whether to drop a ban on gay Scouts, a Los Altos Hills resident was among those holding a ballot.

Reached while still at the convention in Dallas last week, he gave the Town Crier local insight into the national event.

Scout leaders voted to reverse the ban on gay youth but declined to address the continuing ban on gay adult leaders.

Garth Pickett, president of the Boy Scouts’ Pacific Skyline Council, had spent months interviewing families, sponsoring organizations and alumni to solicit input on whether change was needed. The Scouts had had no formal policy on sexual orientation until recent years, when a court case spurred the organization’s leadership to clarify an exclusion policy that hadn’t been voted on by members. Some local groups, including a Cub Scout troop in Los Altos Hills, independently rejected the policy and voiced their demand for inclusion.

The data gathered by local leaders like Pickett directly led to the ballot last week, he reported. The Northeast region of the U.S. strongly supported welcoming gay members in Scouting, while the South strongly opposed the move. The Midwest and West were close to evenly split.

One question on the survey drew a powerful spike in support, Pickett said – the one addressing the narrow question of whether a young Scout questioning his orientation should be able to remain in Boy Scouts and receive support from the adults in his life.

“Is that the right thing for Scouting to do – train them they have to keep their mouth shut when they’re struggling with this, in an organization that gives them mentors they can trust when they’re developing as young men?” Pickett summarized. “That question struck a real strong chord across the United States. The vast majority said, ‘You’re right, Scouting is for every boy and young man.’ … That’s why (the BSA) came up with the proposal that they did.”

A tense vote

Pickett said Scouts from around the country delivered gut-wrenching speeches for and against the proposal, describing the support they had lost due to exclusion. He said the tone of the event was emotional but courteous, with speakers from both points of view showing remarkable thoughtfulness in deeply personal comments.

The BSA hired an external organization to run a tightly secured voting procedure, and after a day of impassioned pleas, representatives from around the country cast their ballots.

As thousands gathered in the huge assembly hall to hear the results, Pickett said a national leader predicted that the ballots might come back with a margin of only a dozen votes out of 1,400 cast by regional representatives. The BSA leadership had drafted the inclusive change and voiced their support for it but had said that if the organization as a whole voted no, the majority opinion would prevail.

“Wayne Perry, the national president, blinks, reads the results, and then he just got emotional – 61.44 percent in favor of change, 38.56 against change,” Pickett said. “No clapping, there were no hurrahs, just silence. Shaking hands, hugging and walking out of the room.”

Pickett said the vote would require a process of healing and outreach for some regions.

“I’m going to have to write letters to my friends in our area who’ve said that this is the end of Scouting,” he said. “I’m going to write them ... and see what we can do to get them to understand the reality of what’s going on and what the resolution says. Scouting will go on the same.”

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