Local Boy Scout groups see little early reaction to OK on gay members
by Debra Flax
dflax@annistonstar.com
Jun 05, 2013 | 3316 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leaders of local Boy Scout groups say they’ve seen little reaction here to a decision last month by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay members, though it may be too early to gauge the move’s reception.

Choccolocco District Chairman Malcolm Street Jr. said that a scout’s sexual orientation should not be an issue.

“Scouting is not a sexual organization,” Street said. “Sex is not something focused on or taught or emphasized in any way. We do, however, teach to keep our children safe and we have a great plan for doing that.”

The national policy change will not take effect until Jan 1, allowing scouting organizations to decide at the troop level how they will move forward.

“We really haven’t had any official meetings over it yet,” said Mike Barnwell, Cub Scout leader for Pack 4019 in Jacksonville. “So far, most leaders are staying with the program. With our pack at least.”

Barnwell, a leader as well as a father, said that he does not agree with the decision, but plans to keep himself and his sons in their troop because of what it has to offer.

“I can help more boys staying rather than leaving,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of stir up about it, but everybody needs to think before they do anything that might hurt the boys of the programs. This is for the boys and not the adults.”

Other than summer camps and hiking trips, the majority of active Boy Scout programs take place during the school year, which ended for the district last month. Because of this, Street said, he expects more discussion of the decision in the coming months.

“We haven’t seen any great departure at this point, but I think families will speak up in the fall,” Street said. “And if they see that the organization is continuing to instill the values they want their children to be exposed to, then they will stay.”

With the majority of Boy Scout troops sponsored by Methodist churches in the area, many troop and pack leaders are waiting to see what stance United Methodist Church will take.

Larry Coppock, the national Scouting Ministry director for the United Methodist Church, attended the BSA annual conference where the decision was made. He said he found their months-long process of getting to the vote difficult, but was impressed by the lack of tension or anger presented during the meeting.

“There were passionate people on both sides, but they weren’t allowed in the hotel,” Coppock said. “It was very well-run and even when the vote was announced, there was no yelling or excitement.”

In the General Commission on United Methodist Men newsletter, Coppock wrote, “[It] is time to move forward and continue to promote scouting as a youth ministry as we have before.”

On the North-Central Alabama District level for UMC, Director of Communications Danette Clifton said while the office has not received many responses from churches regarding the decision, those that have called are committed to keeping their sponsorships.

“For this area, at least, we’re leaving it to each troop and local congregation to make their final decisions,” Clifton said.

Lenn Motz, a volunteer leader for Troop 4009 in Anniston, said it is too early to tell exactly how troops, packs and parents will ultimately respond come January, but, as of now, he does not anticipate much change for the area.

“There’s been a lot of community acceptance of it,” Motz said. “The main thing we concentrate on is the boys and what’s best for them.”
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