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Vote on Boy Scouts’ gay ban brings out protesters from both sides

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 10:28 a.m. CST

(MCT) GRAPEVINE, Texas — Protesters in Boy Scout uniforms staked out sides of a resort-lined street in this Dallas suburb where national Scouting leaders were meeting Wednesday to consider lifting the ban on gay Scouts.

On one side, handmade signs cried “Save our Scouts” and “Boy Scouts morally straight.” Inside a hotel on the other side, signs called for “Inclusive Scouting” and “Scouting for all.”

Even after the highly anticipated vote by the Boy Scout national council Thursday, the battle over gays in Scouting will be far from over, both sides vowed.

The largest religious sponsor of troops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and others have issued statements supporting a compromise proposal that would allow gay Scouts but still ban gay adults from participating in Scouting.

Supporters of the ban on gay Scouts said that lifting it would undercut the group’s moral foundation.

“They’re caving,” said Suzanne Orr, 43, of Fort Worth, who brought her two teenage sons in Scout uniforms to protest with about 50 others.

If the proposal passes as expected, some troops and the religious groups that sponsor them will withdraw from the national organization, they have said — a dangerous possibility for a group whose membership has decreased by nearly 19 percent during the last decade, according to the most recent figures from 2011.

Orr said that her troop leaders planned to meet to discuss what to do but that nationwide “there will be a huge loss of membership and revenue.” About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by religious groups, and the ban is backed by the Southern Baptist Convention, Family Research Council and other conservative religious organizations.

“My religious beliefs cannot be compromised,” said Mike Duncan, 46, a scoutmaster who described himself as Christian and traveled to the protest from Johnson City, Tenn., upset that opponents of the ban have brought sex and politics into Scouting.

“They’re asking churches to support something that is wrong,” he said.

Opponents of the ban include several national Scouting board members; President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger in last year’s election, Mitt Romney; some U.S. senators; and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Petitions against the ban purportedly bearing 1.8 million signatures have been presented to Scouting leaders and were on display Wednesday. Some troops who oppose the ban have accepted gays and said they planned to continue regardless of Thursday’s vote.

At an afternoon “Equal Scouting Summit” briefing across the street from the Boy Scouts meeting, about 20 opponents of the ban said they were encouraged by the proposal to accept gay youths, but that it fell far short of their goal of full inclusion.

“They’re trying to take a step to placate people — it’s not the step I want,” said Howard Menzer, 76, of San Diego, a longtime scoutmaster who quit because of what he considered discriminatory policies.

“I love Scouting. I hate the discrimination,” Menzer said. “It needs to be more open.”

Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom forced to resign as her son’s Cub Scout leader last year for being gay, attended Wednesday’s briefing with her 8-year-old son, Cruz, and said their family would not return to scouting until it was fully inclusive of gays.

She and others worried that without gay Scout leaders, gay youths or those with gay families would struggle for acceptance in Scouting and may face bullying and tough decisions if they wanted to become leaders.

Alex, 19, a gay Eagle Scout from Madison, Wis., was unsure what lifting the ban for gay youths would mean for him. Alex, who requested that his last name not be used given the pending vote, is not an openly gay Scout. He’s still a youth member of Scouting, but he’s also is an assistant Scout leader.

“Where does someone like me fall?” he said, adding that unless the policy changes to allow gay leaders, he and other gay Scouts he knows will probably have to leave the group.

Scoutmaster Mark Noel was forced to leave his New Hampshire Boy Scout troop in 2000 after officials found out he was gay. He said those who accuse gays of injecting sexuality into Scouting failed to recognize that bringing his husband to a Scouting event was no different from bringing a wife or children.

“That is the double standard, that is the discrimination, that is what has to change,” Noel, 43, said.

Noel helped found the Inclusive Scouting Network, with its own rainbow badge, which he encouraged opponents of the ban to keep wearing this week, event after the vote.

“Keep wearing it until the day comes when we don’t have to wear it anymore,” Noel said, “That day has not come yet.”

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©2013 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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