The Boy Scouts of America began allowing gay members under the age of 18 as of January 1st. While some groups have withdrawn their support, the impact on local scouting doesn’t appear to be that large for now.
Spencer Page at the Gulf Coast Council says nine charter partners, all of them religious groups and most of them independent churches, notified the Council just after the vote last May that they would be departing.
Over 61% of Scouting's National Council of delegates from across the country voted to lift the ban on gay kids and teens,overturning membership guidelines that had roiled the group in recent years.
Local membership numbers among Boy Scouts are actually up but Page says Cub Scouts are down. On the latter, he points to unrelated policy changes in the Escambia and Santa Rosa County School Districts on how scouting is promoted each fall in seeking new members.
“Usually in the month of September in both of those counties….we’ll round up over a thousand new kids,” said Page. “And this year it was below 500.”
Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says the policy change was made a year and a half ago, and had nothing to do with the Boy Scouts, their message or their methods. Other groups came in, seeking a captive audience of students for what amounted to a deluge of commercial messages.
Meanwhile, Wyrosdick says they’re working with the Gulf Coast Council on at least two new programs.
“The Boy Scouts have a formal desire to look at a partnership with us, so we’re exploring what that looks like,” said Wyrosdick. “They have a tremendously successful program that has been introduced across the nation where they adopt a school, and we have examined that thoroughly and are looking forward to moving forward in a positive light.”
The ban on gay and lesbian scout leaders remains in place and because of that, LGBT activists say the change didn’t go far enough.
Despite what appears to be a seamless implementation of the new policy, the debate over gay Boy Scouts – and gay scout leaders is expected to continue. Part of that is the formation of the group “Trail Life.” It’s a religous based organization for boys whose parents were put off by the BSA’s inclusion of openly gay scouts.