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Boy Scouts: Southern Californians weigh in on gay ban proposal

The Boy Scouts' long-standing ban on gays in Scouting puts the group "far behind many, many youth-serving organizations," said Jim Key, a spokesman for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

"It shouldn't require much bravery for the Boy Scouts of America to set a policy that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination," especially now that such massive institutions as the military have done so, Key said.

Key was one of many Southern Californians who expressed a desire Wednesday for the Boy Scouts of America to lift the ban.

In announcing the postponement, the national organization said the issue of sexual orientation was too complex and needed more time for study.

Hundreds of people rallied outside the Boy Scouts' national headquarters in Irving, Texas, to rally against lifting the ban. They carried flags and reading "God votes no on gays!" and "Save our boys from homosexual acts!"

The approximately 1,400 voting members of the organization's national council will take action on the resulting resolution at a meeting in May in Grapevine, Texas.

Many Boy Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations.

Key said the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's stance is that "religious institutions are free to set their own doctrine, but when sponsoring Boy Scout troops, their beliefs should not be justification for denying boys and young men the benefits and reward of a scouting experience."

Key said he is "optimistic that the delay means they're discussing how they can institute a non-discrimination policy."

The issue was put on the agenda for the current executive board meeting in Irving at a time of declining Scout membership, questions by corporate sponsors and public pressure from activists who oppose the ban.

John Schmitten of San Diego has a 20-year-old son who is an Eagle Scout. The ban "never really sat well" with Schmitten, he said, because "we were cutting a group out."

"We're not talking about sex in Boy Scout troops," said Schmitten, who volunteered as an informal Scout leader. "We're talking about how to tie a knot, how to make a fire. Orientation ... never comes up; it never should."

Schmitten said there are bigger risks to child safety than whether to allow gays into troops.

"The risk is more in people's character than their sexual orientation," he said.

Benjamin Boone, a music professor at Cal State Fresno, grew up in the South and said he used to be homophobic. As a teenager, he learned his older brother was gay, which changed his perspective.

Boone has two young sons who spent about a year in the Scouts before he decided to take them out.

"The organization purports to instill ethics, values and morals," he said. "But the ethics, values and morals they are instilling are exclusionary, and they're completely contradictory to the teachings of their God."

Boone said the postponement sends a message.

"By not making the Boy Scouts inclusive today, they have decided to be exclusionary," Boone said.

Scout leaders in Orange County said they would take their cues from the headquarters in Texas.

"The announcement came from the national council and is about national policy," said Jeff Herrmann, president and executive of the Boy Scouts of America Orange County Council. "Our Boy Scout Council has agreed with the national organization not just on this issue but all issues to follow national policy."

Huntington Beach den leader Brett Walliham said that in his years volunteering for Cub Scout Pack 287, sexuality has never come up. No openly gay parents have applied to volunteer, and no openly gay boys have tried to join the group, he said.
He said he could not speak on behalf of the whole group, but "from a practical point of view, if nobody objected to it, nobody would ever know, I guess. It's sort of like don't ask, don't tell."
ALSO:
-- Hailey Branson-Potts and Matt Stevens in Los Angeles; Jill Cowan in Orange County
 
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