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Former Utah Scout: Next challenge is making gay youth welcome

Published May 31, 2013 9:50 am

Leaders agree to allow gay youths to join troops starting Jan. 1, but controversy won't stop right away, Utahn says.
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Dylan Lukes of South Jordan dropped out of his Boy Scouts of America troop two years ago after another Scout found his journal, where he had written about being gay.

"The other parents freaked out and were not comfortable," said Lukes, now 17. "I wanted to get my Eagle [Scout] badge … but I just stopped going because I felt uncomfortable."

In a historic decision Thursday, selected leaders of the BSA voted to ease an increasingly controversial ban and allow openly gay boys to join, while continuing to exclude gay adults. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a 100-year history with the group, with the Boy Scouts making up a large part of its youth program.

Lukes said after the vote he's glad to see the change — but he predicts some Utah troops will face a challenge in helping gay youths feel welcome.

He was not asked to leave his troop, he noted, but chose to leave because he felt it had a culture of being anti-gay. The new policy could change troop environments, he said, but he feels "it all depends on the [LDS] wards that the troops are in."

The LDS Church, the nation's largest sponsor of troops, had said it supported the proposal to allow gay youths. The 1,400 voting members of the BSA's national council passed a resolution that said: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

In a statement after the vote, the LDS Church said its leaders " will continue to seek the most effective ways to address the diverse needs of young people in the United States and throughout the world. Sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest."

Those standards include abstinence from sexual relationships.

Great Salt Lake Council officials, who represent one of the nation's largest BSA groups with about 75,000 Scouts, said they allowed each of their 15 voting members to "vote their conscience."

The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.

The vote's outcome will not end the bitter debate over the Scouts' membership policy. Liberal Scout leaders have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.

In contrast, conservatives with the Scouts — including some churches that sponsor Scout units — wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted. Before the vote, one estimate suggested a policy change could cause as many as 100,000 to 350,000 Scouts to leave, and could affect donations.

"This has been a challenging chapter in our history," the BSA chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote. "While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they're in Scouting."

Scouting was established in 1910 and claims 2.6 million youth members, in addition to thousands of leaders and volunteers.

In Utah, Chipotle Mexican Grill pulled its sponsorship in May of the state's "Scout-O-Rama" event, citing its anti-discrimination policy. Winger's Roadhouse Grill, Utah Sports Lodge and Madeline's Steakhouse came forward to fill the void.

Winger's donated an equal amount to the Utah Pride Center's Queer Prom, an annual event for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths and their allies.

In March, a group of Boy Scout and church leaders proposed creating a troop sponsored by the Pride Center, aiming to include boys whose parents have opposed Scouting because of its gay membership ban. The Great Salt Lake Council, through the national BSA, denied the new troop application.

Peter Brownstein, the leader of an existing troop in Salt Lake City who had helped propose the Pride Center troop, said Scouts for Equality members plan to march in the Utah Pride Festival parade on June 2.

Brownstein's son, Michael, 13, is an Eagle Scout, and said of the policy change: "I think overall it will be a good thing; it'll bring more people into the program."

Before his journal was discovered, Lukes said, he had only positive experiences during his nine years of Scouting.

"I learned a lot of things and enjoyed going and learning how to take care of myself in an emergency," Luke said. "I'm not going to burn my uniforms ... I still live (what I learned in the Scouts)."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.








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