Just seven months after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reaffirmed its decades-old ban on admitting gay members and leaders, the organization said it could reverse that policy as early as this week.
Scout officials announced on Jan. 28 that the organization is considering amending its policy against homosexual participation in favor of allowing local troops to decide on their own, NBC News reports.
If the policy change is approved at this week's national executive board meeting the ban would be eliminated from the scout's rules.
"The chartered organizations that oversee and deliver scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs,” Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts’ national organization told NBC News on Monday.
As far as Coventry's scout organizations go, homosexuality seems to be - and has been - a non-issue. According to Pack 11 Coventry Cubmaster John Potvin, in his 17 years as an adult scout leader, the sexual preference of scouts has not been a topic of much discussion.
"I know that this has always been a 'hot topic' nationally but it never really seemed to be an issue in Coventry," said Potvin. "I know there have been gay and lesbian leaders and in Coventry it seemed to be tolerated."
Potvin explained that scouting units rely heavily on chartered organizations whose institutional head has the responsibility to select scout leaders. As is the case with Coventry's Pack 11 Cub Scouts and Troop 11 Boy Scouts, both chartered by Saints John and Paul Parish, more than two-thirds of all scout troops are chartered by faith-based organizations - many of which have stood historically against LGBT equality.
Potvin said he has never seen this as a concern for Coventry scouts and their leaders.
"I believe that in Coventry and Rhode Island as a whole, leaders have been chosen by the willingness and ability to help scouts," he said. "I do not know of any local leaders that have been discriminated against."
In his personal opinion, Potvin feels that "sexual preference has no bearing on scouting" and believes the BSA's mission statement; "To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law", is what scouting should be based on above all else.
"I think the only aspects of sex that should be included in the scouting program is those that are designed to keep youth safe and follow the youth protection guidelines as set forth by the BSA," he said.
While the New York times reported that scout officials offered no timeline on making the formal decision, most other media outlets are anticipating a decision after discussion on the issue at the BSA national executive board meeting on Feb. 6.
Coventry Patch readers recently weighed in on Facebook about the announcement:
Andrew Brennan: It's about time, but I'll believe it when I see it, and it still sad that they're leaving it up to the troops instead of just saying, y'know, it's allowed.
Kevin Rock: Being an active member of the Boy Scouts for 15 years, it really screws Boy Scouts in a big way. If they declare they allow gays, then the Mormons, which control 60% of the population will pull out of the organization and BSA will die. And the organization, sponsored by churches (which are all anti-gay) will tell troops they have to get lost, we don't want you anymore. At the same time, if they didn't go pro gay then the media would ultimately kill them. Frankly speaking, Boy Scouts will probably cease to exist in 10 years.
Sue Sullivan: It's disgusting that there ever was a ban. And the fact that they are leaving the decision to each troop is just as disturbing. These are people just like everyone else - Living, breathing, human beings.
Jared Walker: Took you long enough, BSA. Even if they lose funding over the change, I'm sure someone will step up to fill the void. I'd like to see them distance themselves from religious organizations and not ban atheists/agnostics as well.
Activists on both sides of the issue spoke out last week on the unintended consequences of leaving the decision on whether or not to allow gays up to individual scouting troops. The New York Times reported that supporters of the ban feared the Boy Scouts' softened approach could undermine the organization's legacy of producing great, moral leaders. Equality activists worried the piecemeal approach would encourage discrimination in some troops.
The battle to end the ban on gay members and leaders in the Boy Scouts began decades ago, but recently regained momentum as a result of public and private backlash when the scouts reaffirmed their policy position in 2012. That same policy endured a Supreme Court trial in 2000.
What's your opinion on allowing gay members and leaders in the Boy Scouts? Do you think Boy Scouts' headquarters should issue a more definitive policy change allowing homosexuals? What will be the repercussions of allowing individual units to ban or allow gays? Tell us in the comments below.