Chris McArdle spent part of his childhood in southern Utah going on campouts and horseback rides in the wilderness as part of the Boy Scouts of America. The former organizer of the Southern Utah Pride Festival, now pursuing a career as a minister, said he is grateful for the experiences the organization provided.
But Tuesday's announcement that the BSA won't change its policy of excluding gays as scout leaders left the St.George resident with mixed emotions.
"It's their loss, really it is. Gay men and women are powerful, strong, genuine loving leaders," said McArdle, 52. "I think the policy is really missing out on some exceptional people being scout leaders. That's the bottom line."
While McArdle's ambitions include working with youth when he becomes ordained as a minister, he said it's sad that a policy would prohibit him from being a scout leader.
"It's time to give up the separation and to be one community gay, straight, unified. It doesn't matter," McArdle said. "We don't need to have Boy Scouts of America to have groups of kids going camping. Maybe it's time to develop something else that can be all-inclusive."
Other representatives of Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities on Tuesday echoed McArdle's disappointment in the Scouts' attitude toward gay scout leaders.
The BSA's decision followed a bitter debate over changing the policy of the 112-year-old organization to be more inclusive. An 11-member special committee, whose membership was not disclosed by the organization, apparently voted unanimously not to change the exclusion policy after two years of studying the issue.
The exclusion policy was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, but has continued to be widely debated.
Kathy Godwin, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays), said the policy decision is frustrating because the organization touts itself as one that is valued by families, but "is now saying only certain families can participate."
"That is just another form of exclusion," Godwin said. "It's very disappointing."
She pointed out that the organization's motto of "Be prepared" includes the philosophy of being ready for all things that a scout may encounter in life including diverse families.
In Utah, the Scouts' largest sponsor is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to 2011 statistics, 420,977 youth in Utah participate in Scouting through 37,882 different troops.
The LDS Church sponsors the most troops of any organization in the country, with the United Methodist Church, Catholic Church and parent-teacher groups and Presbyterian Church rounding out the Scouts' top five sponsors in the U.S.
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter on Tuesday declined comment about the Scouts' decision, referring questions to the organization's national spokesman.
Tribune reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this report.
Boy Scout policy on gays
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
Source • scouting.org
LDS policy on gays
"If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances."
Source • "Handbook 2: Administering the Church," instructions for LDS leaders, which is available publicly online
Boy Scouts' top sponsors
LDS Church • 420,977 youths in 37,882 units.
United Methodist Church • 371,491 youths in 11,078 units.
Catholic Church • 283,642 youths in 8,570 units.
Parent-teacher groups, other than PTAs • 153,214 youths in 3,712 units.
Presbyterian Church • 127,931 youths in 3,663 units.
Source • 2011 Boy Scouts of America Local Council Index