COLLEGE PARK – When the Boy Scouts of America announced this week that it was considering changing its longstanding ban on openly gay scouts and troop leaders, it came as a surprise to many Maryland scouts, especially Cub Scout Pack 442 in Cloverly.
Last month, regional scouting officials threatened to revoke Pack 442’s charter unless it removed a non-discrimination statement from its website that did not specifically exclude gays from participating.
Since 1991, the Boy Scouts of America has explicitly prevented local troops from making their own decisions about admitting gay scouts and leaders. The position put the scouts, founded in 1910, at the center of a cultural war that led to a handful of U.S. Supreme Court cases.
National Boy Scouts of America leaders said this week that they were considering allowing local troops to decide for themselves whether or not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” wrote Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America.
National Boy Scouts of America leaders will meet next week to decide whether to change the policy. While awaiting the decision, some Maryland boy scout and cub scout troop leaders said in interviews this week that they welcomed the change. Others said they thought it would have little day-to-day impact on their troops.
Pack 442 is still waiting to find out if its charter will be renewed by the National Capital Area Council, which oversees troops in the Washington, D.C., area, said Assistant Cubmaster Richard Meyerdirk. He said he hoped the national organization would change its policy banning gays.
“We want to service our community as we see fit for the area,” he said.
Bill Scanlan, committee chair of Troop 209 in Silver Spring, said a change would be welcomed by his troop and its affiliated charter-partner organization, Woodside United Methodist Church. The church defines itself as “an inclusive congregation where everyone is welcome, reflecting the many hues of God’s people” on its website.
“Part of the problem is that charter organizations may already have a non-discrimination policy in place,” he said, adding that his troop would not have turned anyone away regardless of sexual orientation, despite the national policy.
Bill Thomas, Scoutmaster of Troop 224 in Hyattsville, said he expected that the proposed changes would not alter how he runs his troop.
“There are all kinds of things besides sex that men need to learn,” he said. “We don’t want heterosexual sex on our camping trips as much as we don’t want homosexual sex. If a young man wants to join the troop and he’s gay, so what? Big deal. Who cares? Are you ready to camp in 10-degree cold or 95-degree heat? That’s what I’m concerned with.”