Boy Scouts Anti-Gay Policy: Will St. Louis Organizations End Discrimination?

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Last summer, we wrote about Eric Jones, an Eagle Scout at a camp in St. Joseph who was forced to leave the organization after twelve years, because he told the camp director he was gay. That violated the Boy Scouts of America's clear anti-gay policy, though Jones, a sophomore at Missouri State at the time, said that being open about his sexuality went along with Boy Scout pledges to be "morally strong."

But now, an individual in Jones' position might not have to choose between being open or being out the door. This week, Boy Scouts of America nationally announced that it is reconsidering its ban on gay members with a possible policy change that would allow local organizations to decide whether to be discriminatory.

If given the opportunity, will the Greater St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts become more inclusive?

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Reached by Daily RFT yesterday, Joe Mueller, spokesman for the Greater St. Louis Area Council, gave only a vague response when asked about future St. Louis policy.

That's likely because the national statement, full version on view below, does not include any clear commitments of change. That statement released on Monday from Deron Smith, BSA director of public relations, says, in part:

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The statement reiterates that the change is "under discussion."

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In response, Mueller has posted a statement on the St. Louis local website, which says in part:

Any changes or updates to the National Council's policies will be communicated by the Greater St. Louis Area Council to its chartering organizations, volunteer leaders, parents, youth members and the general public. Our council will continue to focus on working with a wide range of organizations to deliver a program of character development and values-based leadership training to more than 57,000 young people.

Mueller tells Daily RFT, "This is something that is being reviewed at the national council level.... The local council has a charter with the national council. We will abide by the programs and policies that are set forth by the nation council."

It appears that if the whole organization does remove its ban -- leaving it up to local groups to decide -- there could still potentially be a range of policies in the St. Louis Council groups.

Mueller says that the BSA Greater St. Louis Council works with a wide range of "chartering organizations," such as schools, churches, community groups and others that under new policy could all in theory make their own individual decisions about banning members based on sexual orientation.

Asked whether the St. Louis Council overall supports this change -- the opportunity not to discriminate -- he says, "We are just waiting to see what is communicated [from the national level]."

Continue for more of our interview with Joe Mueller and the full Boy Scouts statements.

And has there been support or efforts locally to advocate for a policy change that would allow local charter organizations to select leaders without sexual orientation restrictions?

"I can say that our council, our community...our executive board, our volunteers have continued just to focus on providing a good program for the kids," Mueller tells us in response. "We are aware of this issue. We are aware that there is tremendous debate going on and has been going on.... Our time and focus has been on continuing to do everything we can to provide a program for young people throughout our community."

There doesn't seem to be any specific timeline nationally for possible changes.

Here's the full statement from the national organization.

For more than 100 years, Scouting's focus has been on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs.

And the full statement from St. Louis:

The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America announced on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, that it was discussing removing the membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This national policy change would allow religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting programs to determine how to address the issue.

Any changes or updates to the National Council's policies will be communicated by the Greater St. Louis Area Council to its chartering organizations, volunteer leaders, parents, youth members and the general public. Our council will continue to focus on working with a wide range of organizations to deliver a program of character development and values-based leadership training to more than 57,000 young people.

More from our LGBT archive: "St. Louis is One of Nation's "Gayest" Cities"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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