The Boy Scouts of America have decided to accept openly gay youths starting on New Year's Day, 2014. This is an historic change that has made it necessary for the BSA to consider a host of potential complications, ranging from policies on showers and tentmates to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
BSA leaders are hoping the new policy will be implemented in a low-key way without any big drama complications. Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee said, "It's business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward."
However not everyone is willng to accept these changes without protest. Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units while other families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. Still, huge defections have not occurred and most major sponsors like the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches are keeping their ties to Scouts.
The new policy was approved in May, with the support of 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council. The vote followed a bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
While gay scouts will no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program, they will face some restrictions.
"Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," says one BSA document. "No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation."
In trying to anticipate potential problems, the BSA says, "Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting's official uniforms and insignia when doing so." Also, "While a youth member may acknowledge his or her sexual preference, that acknowledgment may not reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion, or the distribution of information of a sexual nature."
In a FAQ section, the BSA anticipates that some objections might arises from parents of scouts themselves. "If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored," and "The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations."
The BSA acknowledges that some problems may occur, but believes adult leaders will have the skills to address and defuse such issues.
There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA's exclusion of gay youth and gay adults.
The Southern Baptist Convention, a major sponsor, is clearly disappointed with the new policy but has left the decision on whether to cut ties with Scouts to their local churches. It is currently unknown how many churches have left the Scouts.
The biggest sponsor of Scout units -- the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- commended the BSA for a "thoughtful, good-faith effort" to address a challenging issue, and said it would stay engaged in Scouting.
However one challenge remains unsolved -that of gay scout leaders. Robert Gates, is scheduled to take over in the spring as the BSA's next president. As leader of the Pentagon, Gates helped change the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning openly gay soldiers, and gay-rights groups hope he will try to end the BSA's ban on gay adult leaders.