Removing the Boy Scouts of America’s long-standing national ban on gay troop leaders and members could allow more Mainers to discover what Scouting has to offer, says an organization leader in Maine.

“In Maine, most of our organizations would probably be very open and excited if the national board were to approve this,” said Eric Tarbox, Scout executive for the Pine Tree Council of Maine, which oversees Boy Scouts activities in 10 central and southern Maine counties. “I see a lot of opportunity here, for us to reach out to more families and organizations, and deliver the good of Scouting.”

Even if national leaders adopt the proposed change and remove the exclusion of gays from the Scouts, however, some local troop sponsors still could exclude gay people and others who don’t meet their membership standards.

The national Boy Scouts of America organization plans to meet next week to consider a proposal to remove its controversial national ban on openly gay people joining the Scouts as leaders or members. If approved, the proposal would leave the decision of whether to allow in gays up to organizations which sponsor Scouting groups at the local level.

Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, an organization that advocates for full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Maine, said the change under consideration is the latest example of how attitudes are changing as Americans get to know gay people and their families.

She said the new policy would be a major improvement but still leaves room for individual chapters to discriminate.

“We hope the Boy Scouts of America will do the right thing and end their policy of nationwide discrimination against gays and lesbians,” Smith said Tuesday. “Many local chapters are already supportive of gay Scouts and of same-sex couples and their children. It’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to catch up with their members. Any young person who wants to be a Boy Scout, or any adult who wants to lead those young people, should be able to participate, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Tarbox said some Scout sponsors, such as traditional religious groups, could and probably would ban openly gay people from joining the organizations for which they hold the local charter.

“There are some very traditional religious institutions that have very specific views on that,” Tarbox said. “If those organizations have certain standards, certain beliefs, they want to follow, that organization could decide what those standards of membership are. We will not dictate to one of our chartering partners. I think the change would be a positive, to let the local organizations decide.”

Boy Scouts of America local units generally have their charter sponsored by a local community organization.

“Currently, the Boy Scouts of America is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” Deron Smith, director of public relations for Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

The Pine Tree Council of the Scouts, which oversees local troops with about 12,000 youth members and adult leaders, already has a non-discrimination policy that reads, in part, “The Pine Tree Council, Boy Scouts of America, reaffirms its position to teach and to practice tolerance for all people. We are proud that we abide by all local, state and federal laws regarding non-discrimination.”

Tarbox said the Portland-based council also has a policy of zero tolerance for “sexual advocacy or inappropriate behavior of any kind.”

In other words, troop leaders aren’t allowed to advocate for any sexual behavior — gay or straight — to their young charges.

“Nowhere in our curriculum is there anything about sex education,” Tarbox said. “People can be from whatever orientation they are; it’s just unallowable to teach it to other people’s minors. It’s not appropriate. We will maintain our local board-adopted policy on zero tolerance of sexual advocacy for children. And I want to be clear; that’s any type of sexuality. It’s all, not just one.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com