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IN SCOUTING’S BEST INTEREST: Local reaction to Boy Scouts’ policy vote
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – “A week before the vote I would have told you, ‘It’ll never pass,’” Clarke Farrer said of the historic policy vote that took place in Grapevine, Texas on May 23. Farrer is the Scout Executive for the Grand Teton Council, which oversees 18 area districts including Jackson. “Then I got down [to Texas] and listened to what was being said: the arguments for and against. And just prior to the vote, it was obvious it would pass. Moving forward, I think it will be a good thing, and I didn’t think that a week ago.”
Farrer’s self-described “epiphany” had a lot to do with setting aside his own preconceived notions of what his organization was being asked to do.
“A lot of people, including myself, were reading into the proposal a bit,” Farrer admitted. A rough draft of the proposal, eventually adopted by a 61 percent vote of 1,232 delegates of Scouting’s National Council, included terminology specifically targeted at gay and homosexual conduct. Once Farrer thoroughly read the current resolution, he was convinced it had Scouting’s best interests in mind.
“That original proposal could have been handled better than it was,” Farrer said. “The media is pretty fond of referring to this as a Boy Scouts ban on gays, but this second proposal doesn’t say anything about homosexuals or gays. The focus is on behavior. The resolution passed, but it doesn’t mean the Boy Scouts of America will allow sexual behavior of homosexuals anymore than they would from heterosexuals.”
Farrer said the new policy shift affects only a very small minority of boys who previously felt Scouting organizations excluded them based on sexual orientation.
“Keep in mind we are talking about a lot of 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds here. A vast majority of these kids don’t recognize or haven’t developed a sexual awareness of any kind,” Farrer said. “The takeaway is that we are refocusing the attention on where it really belongs, and that’s making Scouting available to all kids and not excluding kids with a particular problem or challenge. And that’s important in today’s society with the potential suicides that could [happen] – and this might be a little dramatic – but opening up Scouting to all is a good thing for society and could mean the difference between life and death for a very, very small percentage.”
Scouting into the future
The recent vote to allow gay boys into the BSA is seen by some as caving in to a relatively small but vociferous segment of the population. Numerous hard-line religious backers affiliated with the BSA have vowed to pull their support and funding over the decision.
Locally, Jackson-area Scouts likely will notice very little change when the new policy takes effect January 1, 2014. About half the kids in Scouting programs in and around Jackson are Mormon, from Troops 66 and 668. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has signed off on the Scouts’ new stance, giving the vote their full support.
“Probably 95 percent of the organizations in the Grand Teton Council are backed by LDS churches. Jackson is actually one of the most diverse districts we have. It’s probably 50-50 LDS and non-LDS,” Farrer said. “I was able to talk with major leaders from the LDS church, and LDS is fully behind this decision. That went a long way for me in this process of change in thinking I had. There are other fundamental churches that teach that homosexuality is wrong, but LDS focuses more on not the feelings but the act as being wrong.”
A prepared statement from the First Presidency of the Church responded with the following: “The Church’s long-established policy for participation in activities is stated in the basic instructional handbook used by lay leaders of the Church. [It states, in part]: Young men … who agree to abide by Church standards are welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate. This policy applies to Church-sponsored Scout units. Sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.”
In response to some activists who say the vote doesn’t go far enough and insist the BSA extend the inclusion of homosexuals to adult leadership, Farrer said that day seems far off.
“That certainly was not part of the discussion,” Farrer said. “I do not believe the organization is ready to take that step, and this resolution would not have passed with that in mind. The BSA has already announced they have no plans for the inclusion of openly gay adults, and this issue is closed as far as they are concerned. I don’t see this coming up in the future any time soon, but I was wrong a week ago going into this vote, so we’ll see.”