By Edwin Folven, 2/14/2013
While the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board considers whether to end a ban on accepting gay members, some local Boy Scout troops are calling for acceptance of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation.
“To me, it’s a non-issue. There have always been gay scouts and gay scout leaders,” said scoutmaster Tom Wilson, who leads Boy Scouts Troop 13, which is sponsored by Cathedral Chapel School in the Miracle Mile. “If everyone behaves, who cares? I would never kick a kid out for something like that. I understand in some places they are pretty intolerant of that kind of thing, but that’s not the case here. A gay scout is no problem.”
Wilson said Troop 13 is one of the oldest Boy Scout troops in Los Angeles, dating back nearly 100 years. He said the issue of a scout being gay, or anyone in the troop’s leadership being gay, has never come up during the nearly 20 years he has been leading the troop as either scoutmaster or assistant scoutmaster.
There are currently 20 scouts in the troop, ranging from 10 to 18 years old. Wilson said they go on regular camping trips and to outings with other scout troops where they learn skills intended to build character. Many of the scouts lack a father figure in their lives, he said, and scouting provides guidance for the boys as they grow through adolescence.
“There are a lot of positive things, and I think scouting has taken a bad rap with this issue,” he said. “Scouting gives you a sense of self worth, and teaches the value of giving back to the community. They need to have structure, and that’s what scouting gives you.”
Victor Zuniga, a field director and spokesman for the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the current rules state that any “avowed homosexual” cannot be a scout leader or scout. However, viewpoints on the issue of sexual orientation appear to be changing within the scouts, and he said the national board is now considering letting the entities that sponsor the troops — such as churches, community centers and private organizations — decide individually whether troops should allow gay members.
“It would be up to the sponsoring organizations to make a decision based on their own values,” Zuniga said. “It is something that is still under consideration.”
Zuniga would not comment on the national board’s deliberations, but forwarded a statement from the Boy Scouts of America’s Executive Board outlining its position.
“After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,” according to the statement. “To that end, the executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officer’s work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council will take action on the resolution at the national meeting in May.”
Scoutmaster Thomas Fenady, who leads Troop 10, which is sponsored by St. James Episcopal Church in the Wilshire Center area, said he has been following the issue very closely. He added that Troop 10 has no concern about a member’s sexual orientation.
“We have a written policy of non-discrimination,” Fenady said. “Scouting is about the outdoors, exposing these kids to things they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. [Being gay] is a non-issue. It’s not even a topic. There is no screening process, and we have never asked a scout to leave unless their behavior is disruptive.”
Fenady, who has been involved with scouting for the past five years, said the troop is comprised of approximately 58 scouts between the ages of 11 and 17. The group meets weekly and goes on monthly outings to the Angeles National Forest, Malibu Creek State Park and other wilderness areas.
“It about teaching them a love for the outdoors,” he said.
Fenady declined to comment on the national board’s consideration of lifting the ban on gay scouts. Wilson said he would like to see the focus return to the positive aspects of scouting.
“I’d prefer it to be a non-issue. If everybody behaves, what the heck?,” Wilson said. “Scouting is a positive thing that positively affects many kids. You learn things that can serve you well the rest of your life.”
Some representatives of the local LGBT community, however, said an end to the Boy Scouts’ national ban on gay members cannot come soon enough.
“We were hoping they would do the right thing, not just ending the national policy of prohibiting gay youth from being scouts or gay leaders from being scoutmasters, but to adopt a national policy of non-discrimination,” said Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “Anything less than that endorses discrimination.”