ORONO, Maine — The meeting is still a week away, but speculation that Boy Scouts of America will consider ending its national ban on gay youth and adult members at its regularly scheduled national board meeting next week is prompting questions among Scouting leaders and participants in Maine.
“My understanding is it would be left to the local charter partners, which are typically churches or civic organizations, but they haven’t even met and nothing official has been set forth yet,” said Marshall Steinmann, Katahdin Area Council’s executive director.
Katahdin Area Council governs Boy Scouts of America packs, troops, crews, events and activities for six northern Maine counties — Aroostook, Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo and Washington — accounting for two-thirds of Maine’s geographic area and one third of its population.
“Right now it’s more conversation about what we think will happen,” Steinmann added. “But that’s just it. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen.”
According to a statement from the Boy Scouts of America National Council released by Deron Smith, director of public relations, the Boy Scouts of America board will discuss lifting the ban, which was reaffirmed last summer despite significant criticism from gay rights groups.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” the release states. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles and religious beliefs.”
That means it would be up to the local Boy Scouts of America partners that sponsor packs, troops or crews/posts to determine leadership standards and restrictions.
“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families,” the release stated.
The Boy Scouts of America uses a sponsorship system to set up its packs, for boys ages 7-11; troops, ages 11-18; and crews and posts, ages 14-21, nationwide.
“We basically sell franchises of the BSA to local civic, service and spiritual organizations like churches, the American Legion, the Lions’ Club, and the VFW,” Steinmann said. “For example, Old Town United Methodist Church sponsors Pack 76 and Troop 76. They use that to further their cause as a church, but they have to abide by BSA policies and procedures.”
The Pine Tree Council, which is based in Portland and governs Maine’s 10 counties in southern Maine, seems to be ahead of the curve after adopting a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual orientation and advocacy late last year.
“We were looking at this issue in a broader sense, basically resolving for zero tolerance for sexual advocacy or inappropriate behavior of any kind within our scouting program,” said Eric Tarbox, Pine Tree Council scout executive. “We don’t believe our policy goes against any national current policy, or the one they’re currently considering.”
Pine Tree Council doesn’t inquire about prospective Scout leaders’ and volunteers’ sexual orientation on registration forms.
“We’re not concerned what a person’s sexuality is,” Tarbox said. “We just don’t want them to advocate or promote their orientation to children. That’s not their place.”
Steinmann said he’s hearing from a lot of Boy Scout members, but most of the discussion is conjecture at this point.
“To be honest with you, it’s more questions than anything else,” he said. “I did have one volunteer asking how to voice their displeasure with this.”
Tarbox said he’s heard nothing from Scout participants.
“I just caught this yesterday and I’ve not received any reaction yet, but that may be mostly because we’ve addressed the issue already last fall,” he said.
“It’s not like we have to find a pizza everyone likes. It’s more like they can choose whatever toppings they want,” Steinmann said.
Steinmann said whatever the national board decides, it doesn’t change the 103-year mission or premise of Scouting.
“My take on this is we, as a local council, agree to support whatever decisions the national executive board makes. That’s what we do,” he said. “We have to remember our united focus is to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.”