Two months after a vote that accepted openly gay boys as Scouts, officials for the Boy Scouts of America say they’ve put the issue aside and are focused on their 10-day national Jamboree.
Some 30,000 Scouts and their leaders arrived Monday at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in southern West Virginia. Thousands more staff and volunteers have been at the 1,000-acre site since last week.
Months of divisive debate led to May’s vote by the BSA’s National Council to allow gay Scouts to participate while keeping a ban on gay adults. The policy change is effective next January.
“We don’t see any changes in the way we do things at the jamboree at all,” Wayne Brock, the BSA’s chief executive, told The Associated Press. “We don’t see where it would have any kind of impact.”
With much negative attention directed toward the Boy Scouts in recent months, Brock said the hope is that the Jamboree proves to be a positive event. Although there already has been some controversy over an eligibility requirement for the camp: To attend, Scouts and their leaders have to meet standards for the Body Mass Index and other health factors. So youthwhose BMI is 40 or above were banned.
Regarding the gay policy, BSA national president Wayne Perry said Scouting leaders have been too active to reflect much on the decision.
“We’ve debated this issue, but we’ve moved on,” Perry said.
As Scouts get settled into their tents on six base camps and dive into the dozens of amenities that include whitewater rafting, mountain and BMX biking, and rock climbing, national BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the organization is unaware of any openly gay Scouts attending the Jamboree, noting “we do not proactively inquire about the sexuality of Scouts, or leaders.”
But Pascal Tessier, 16, of Kensington, Md., an openly gay scout who isn’t attending the Jamboree because of prior commitments, said some of his gay friends who are Scouts are attending.
“I don’t think they’re too worried about anything happening there,” he said. “They’ve already been accepted. But they’re also not making a big deal about it. They’re regular Scouts.”
Tessier believes it’s inevitable that Scouts will discuss the BSA’s decision at the Jamboree.
“Not officially, but by themselves,” he said.
Scout officials said they’re unaware of any scheduled protests at the Jamboree. Rich Ferraro of GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the media watchdog group has no planned events around the Jamboree and is continuing work to end the Scouts’ ban on gay adults.
“The Boy Scouts took an important first step, but there’s still a long way to go,” Ferraro said.
Earlier this year, GLAAD led a successful campaign to get two musical acts – Carly Rae Jepsen and Train – to drop their planned appearances at the summer event. Jamboree officials have not announced the act for a July 20 concert.
John Paterson and John Bode from the Pikes Peak Council in Colorado Springs, Colo., helped bring 50 Scouts to West Virginia on Monday.
Paterson is at his seventh Jamboree. And it will be his last because of the vote to allow gay Scouts and the push to include gay adults and others.
“It will effectively change Scouting forever. It has,” Paterson said. “And not just because of what the ramifications are. Eagle Scouts will be in next, and then gay leaders. It’s a ripple effect. It will happen. It may take three years. I think it will happen pretty quickly.”
Paterson said the parents of one of his Scouts also said they’re dropping out of the organization over the vote.
Bode, who previous attended a Jamboree as a youth in 1977, said he’ll stick with the Scouts – for now. He has younger boys in Scouting, so he’d like to see them continue into Eagle Scouts.
Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, an activist raised by lesbian mothers in Iowa, is executive director of Scouts for Equality, a group he started last summer whose membership has grown to more than 15,000.
Wahls said despite the policy change, “99 things out of 100 will continue to be the same for the Boy Scouts of America. And I think it’s important for everybody to remember that. As far as our expectations, we hope it’s a great Jamboree.”
John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he expects to see openly gay activism at the Jamboree. He questioned how leaders will handle the issue of tenting of “boys who openly announce their attraction to other boys.”
Stemberger founded a national coalition of parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts, donors and other BSA members working to create an alternative program to the Boy Scouts.
“For many of our members, this will be the last scouting event they attend before resigning from the BSA,” he wrote in an email.
At an annual meeting in Houston last month, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution expressing its opposition to the new policy allowing gay Scouts, but it didn’t explicitly call for churches to drop all ties with the organization.
“In terms of the Jamboree and summer activities … really at this point nothing has changed,” said Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention. “Nobody should have concerns about (openly gay Scouts) at this year’s Jamboree because the membership policy has not changed.”