Central N.H. residents respond to Boy Scouts’ possible lift of ban on gays
In the cities and towns that compose central New Hampshire, as in countless residential communities across the country, there is a profound sense of tradition when it comes to scouting. A tradition of teaching young people useful skills. A tradition of pulling children away from television screens and nudging them outdoors. A tradition of molding young boys into respectful, conscientious men.
And, at least for now, a tradition of banning homosexuality.
But with the announcement Monday that Boy Scouts of America is considering lifting that ban and instead giving local sponsors the authority to decide their own policies when it comes to sexual orientation and troop enrollment, a scent of change seems to have permeated the national air.
Prominent gay-rights groups have lauded the news, calling the policy change, if it materializes, a milestone to go alongside marriage equality and the end of the ban on gays openly serving in the military. Major religious groups and church leaders who condemn homosexuality have expressed outrage.
Locally, though, it’s unclear whether the possible lift would result in any noticeable change.
“I don’t believe it will make a difference,” Phil Donovan, a scoutmaster in Concord, said. “We’ve had many discussions over the years about it, and we’ve always taken the approach that if you want to be a Boy Scout in Troop 88 then you can be a Boy Scout in Troop 88.”
Donovan, whose troop is sponsored by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said the reason he did not expect a change was because the core goals of his operation do not hinge on sexual orientation.
“I have a great deal of respect for the scouting program,” Donovan said. “It does a great deal of good, and any scout who makes it through to their 18th birthday has truly learned something about being a quality person and a community member and a leader. And in my opinion those traits trump all others.”
Evan Shuey, a 17-year-old Boy Scout from Pembroke, said he didn’t expect much to change within his local troop if the ban is lifted. “I think we’re mostly really tolerant anyway, about anybody’s orientations or religious views,” he said. “I see scouting as preparing boys for the future, for dealing with different situations that might happen, for preparing them for a good career. I don’t think this decision would impact that goal.”
Greg Osborne, marketing director of the New Hampshire branch of the BSA, struck a similar chord. “I think pragmatically not a great deal will change,” he said. “We’ll stay focused on providing youth with value-based leadership skills. We don’t currently inquire into the sexual orientation of individuals or groups, and that’s not going to change.”
Support in N.H. on the rise
Osborne said his branch has managed to mostly skirt the national debate over whether to remove the ban, which has grown steadily in the last year. He noted that while it has been reported that the BSA has taken a hit financially from some large donors, including UPS and the drug-manufacturer Merck freezing their donations until the ban is lifted, support for New Hampshire’s scouting program has steadily increased over the last five years.
“We’ve certainly had some discussion among our members, but we’re lucky to have the focus here be on the program,” Osborne said.
He added that if the BSA decides to shift authority on the matter to local sponsors, there will still be opportunities for those who disagree with that change. “I think there would be a program out there for everyone,” he said. “The BSA has always valued everyone’s opinion and we do our best to make sure our programs are providing wholesome, value-based training. That’s what we’ve always been about.”
But some religious leaders in the area said a change in policy would place the BSA at odds with its mission to help boys do their “duty to God.”
“It’s an unfortunate thing that (the BSA) is reconsidering its stance,” said Brian Fuller, the lead pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Concord. “Their very mission statement as they say is they want to prepare boys to make choices that are ethical and to keep them morally straight. But if you’re going to use God, then how can you accomplish that by allowing immoral behaviors?”
Fuller said his church does not directly fund scouting groups but noted that it’s likely that a policy shift would provoke larger churches to reconsider their financial contributions. “I can’t imagine supporting an organization that is endorsing, or at least allowing immoral behavior,” he said.
Donovan described the issue as difficult for the BSA to traverse on a national level because it is composed of so many troops and councils with differing views on the issue of homosexuality. “I think a lot of people over the years have just beat up the Boy Scouts over the years,” he said. “It’s a tough issue for the scouts. There are going to be a lot of troops that disagree with it as vehemently as those who favor it. This is a way to allow people at the local level to make the call and I think that’s a good decision because one size does not fit all.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or email@example.com)