Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Cub Scout Pack 78 went on record last week that regardless of what its national leaders decide, it welcomes families of all orientations.
After a week of hot anticipation, the national Boy Scouts of America organization had announced Feb. 6 that it was delaying decision on whether to change a policy interpreted as excluding gay participants.
After conversations among its parents, Pack 78 leaders decided to plant a flag in the ground as being “open to everyone and against all forms of discrimination.”
Pack leader Nancy Bremeau said she was “kind of shocked to realize that they even had an antigay policy in the first place.” In the Cub Scout community, where participants are 5 to 10 years old, Bremeau said the main inclusion concern centers on parents, and making same-sex parent couples welcome.
“We’ll have lesbian or gay couples who come to us and say, ‘Can we join?’ Our message to them is, of course you can join – and you don’t have to hide who you are,” said Jason Copeland, den leader and father of a Scout.
The group has already had opportunities to ponder bridging partisan divides. The pack draws Scouts from Gardner Bullis and Bullis Charter schools, enabling out-of-school mixing between two communities often split by logistics and politics.
“We have our own little microcosm and community of friends and neighbors who wouldn’t know each other if it weren’t for this pack,” Bremeau said.
She and Copeland said they are frustrated by the loss of families leery of an exclusionary policy.
Although 70 percent of Scout units have religious sponsorship, the Rotary Club of Los Altos sponsors Pack 78.
“You’ve got Mormon packs and Catholic packs and Baptist packs where they might see things totally differently,” Bremeau acknowledged.
A change in policy?
Conversations with multiple Scout leaders in the Los Altos area suggested that many local families have been closely, and critically, following the debate over BSA policy. Steve Wu, assistant scoutmaster for Troop 37 in Los Altos, said parents have been discussing the decision and many have sent in letters.
“Scout leaders were given an email address and a phone number last week that they can use if they want to be heard on this subject. Last I heard, the waits were two or three hours on the phone. They were flooded – they finally were leaving it open around the clock,” said Garth Pickett, Los Altos Hills resident and president of the regional Pacific Skyline Council of the BSA.
When it delayed the decision last week, the BSA leadership announced that it would revisit the subject in May at the National Annual Meeting. Pickett is among the 1,400 delegates who will vote on a new membership proposal.
“I think there will be some change, no one knows what that change will be,” he said.
The BSA might decide to allow units to set inclusion policies on a local level, but the separate regional decisions would still reflect on the entire organization. Another option would change official language, clarifying exactly what is meant by the Scout oath and law requiring participants to be “morally straight” and “clean.”
In recent years, BSA leaders have interpreted those phrases as opposition to homosexuality. In a statement on its website in 2000, the BSA said “an avowed homosexual is not a role model” for Scout values. But the national organization has also gone on record saying it adopts something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, under which it doesn’t seek to identify participants’ orientations.
Interviews with a several local Scout leaders suggest that on a local level, including gay families and gay Scouts has already become a routine and open practice.
Copeland also volunteers with Scouts for Equality, a group rallying opposition to any gay ban. He was disappointed that the BSA is waiting until May to make a decision. He said that young men in Boy Scouts remain uncertain about their futures and that same-sex families in Cub Scouts “can’t but feel unwelcome.”
Parents weighing in on the debate nationally from both sides relate the inclusion/exclusion policy to values, and their hope to expose children to moral education. Bremeau, for instance, said it was important to her that her son experience groups that are open, “especially as he’s forming his own opinions on things.”
Pickett pointed out that diverse and nonpartisan values have already in many ways formed a backbone for Scouting, which draws participants from a wide variety of faiths and political backgrounds.
“Scouting isn’t for or against various political or social issues,” Pickett said, arguing that independence from political stances of any kind is, or should be, one of the values of Scouting. “We teach them citizenship, character and leadership, with a strong emphasis on that great laboratory for self-reliance – the outdoors.”