boy scouts AP
The Boy Scouts of America have voted to lift a controversial ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the nation's leading youth organization. (AP file)

Washington state Boy Scout leaders hail lifting of gay scout ban

The Boy Scouts of America have voted to lift a controversial ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the nation's leading youth organization.

More than 60 percent of the leaders attending the Boy Scouts annual meeting in Texas supported the change, including former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

"I've wanted to eliminate it for a long time along with several board members," said McKenna, a longtime board member of Washington state's Chief Seattle Council.

"What we all agree on is that America needs scouting, we need the premier leadership development program for kids in the country to keep going strong," McKenna said in an interview from BSA headquarters in suburban Dallas following the vote.

The vote will not end the wrenching debate over the Scouts' membership policy, and it could trigger defections among those on the losing side.

Some conservative churches that sponsor Scout units wanted to continue excluding gay youths, and in some cases threatened to leave the BSA if the ban were lifted.

More liberal Scout leaders - while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth - wanted the ban on gay adults lifted as well.

The BSA could also take a hit financially. Many Scout units in conservative areas feared their local donors would stop giving if the ban on gay youth were lifted, while many major corporate donors were likely to withhold donations if the ban had remained.

Some conservative churches that sponsor Scout units wanted to continue excluding gay youths, and in some cases threatened to leave the BSA if the ban were lifted.

"I'm sure there will be some who will leave scouting or pull their kids out of scouting as a result but I also think most of them will accept the change and move on," McKenna said.

McKenna said while the divisive issue has been hard fought for years, many troops in the organization have operated on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis for decades.

"I was in the scouts back in the 70s in one troop on a military post and one of my best friends was gay. He's come out, we all knew he was gay, it didn't matter to any of us. It didn't matter to leadership," he said.

While the BSA leaders did not vote to lift the ban on gay adults, McKenna insisted the issue isn't over. He said it will be revisited at a later date. And even though many people will remain unhappy after Thursday's action, McKenna called it an important step after a thoughtful, deliberative process.

The BSA's overall "traditional youth membership" - Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers - is now about 2.6 million, compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past. It also has about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers.

Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions.

Those include liberal churches opposed to any ban on gays, but some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have previously supported the broad ban - notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in April that it was satisfied with new proposal, and the National Catholic Committee on Scouting did not oppose it.

"It means that every young person who wants to be in scouting whether it's a boy in Boy Scouts or a boy or girl in Venturing or Explorers can do that," McKenna said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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