Boy Scout officials say NH open to change in national policy on gay members

Staff Report May 12. 2013 2:07AM

New Hampshire's Scouting community favors allowing not only gay Scouts but also gay adult leaders to serve in the Boy Scouts, going beyond a national resolution to be voted on May 23 that would only lift the ban on youth Scouts, according to two local delegates.

"I think the sentiment in New Hampshire has been tilted more to changing the policy. I cannot say it's changing in favor of the resolution as presently written," said Gerry Boyle, chairman of the executive board of the Daniel Webster Council, which represents most New Hampshire Scouts and adult leaders.

"The resolution as presently written is to make a policy change affecting Scouts only and not adult leaders," said Boyle, a previous council president and current Concord District Court judge.

As for the view of allowing gay adult leaders, Boyle said: "I think the sentiment is divided in New Hampshire. However, I think the majority sentiment is to change the policy for everyone."

Among those voicing concern about the coming vote is the father of a New Hampshire Scout. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, which has many Scout troops, says its policies will not change, regardless of the vote.

Tom Farrelly, a father active in his son's Seacoast area troop, is angered by the way the Boy Scouts of America has handled the matter, including bringing to a vote something he feels is quite unnecessary.

"It's made the situation worse than it needs to be," Farrelly said Saturday. "They're bending to the political blackmail of activists. It's forcing them (Boy Scouts) to think about something that really has nothing to do with Scouting."

Farrelly said the subject of sexuality in any form should not be part of Scouting.

Kevin Donovan, director of communication for the Diocese of Manchester, said in an email he could not "respond to speculation about what may or may not happen" with regard to the Boy Scouts of America vote. "I will say that any vote would not affect the principles of ethics we hold all volunteers to.''

The Daniel Webster Council, which represents most of New Hampshire, with 13,000 youth members and more than 5,000 adult members, has four of the 1,400 national delegates who will converge at the annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas, this month. The vote will be taken and results released on May 23. If adopted, it will take effect Jan. 1.

A section of the resolution states: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

The proposed resolution can't be amended to include adult leaders, according to Boyle, who wants to keep an open mind until all the discussion has concluded.

He said two discussions involving members of the Scouting community at the Tilton School and Manchester's Camp Carpenter in March offered "very open and frank discussions, very emotional discussions on both sides of the issue."

No matter how the vote comes out, the issue of allowing gay youths in the Boy Scouts won't be settled, according to Boyle.

Another delegate, Manchester attorney Craig Donais, agrees.

"If I were a betting man, I'd put money on that. We'll have a resolution next year," he said.

Donais said he is "conflicted" and hasn't made up his mind on how he will vote.

"My feeling is this has become a political issue," said Donais, the council commissioner and a member of the DWC's executive board. "I think it's a complicated issue. You've got folks on both sides of the issue who feel strongly about a change or not a change. I've certainly heard from folks advocating for a change or remaining the same."

But, he said: "The sense was if we were talking about a policy change, the policy change would apply to youth and adults."

Donais said Scouts don't talk much at all about sexuality, gay or straight.

"The overall Scouting policy is when sexual-related issues come up, it's not something Scouting should address," Donais said, saying they are encouraged to talk with their parents and/or spiritual counselors.

The Boy Scouts conducted surveys of Scouts, parents and members of the Scouting community. Comments from the Scouting community in the Northeast were more positive for allowing gay Scouts and leaders than they were from people in other parts of the country, according to Donais, who pointed out that many of the states that have legalized gay marriage are in this region.

Boyle said the other two delegates are K. Mark Primeau, president and CEO of the Bank of New Hampshire who serves as the DWC's president, and Ray Bellemore, the council's vice president for physical resources. Neither could be reached for comment.

During a recent event on the Internet, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who finished sixth in New Hampshire's GOP presidential primary last year, said the Boy Scouts should maintain their current policy.

"The fact is, this is a private organization. Their values and principles have worked for a century now, and for pop culture to come in and try to tear that up because it just happens to be the flavor of the month, so to speak, and to tear apart one of the great organizations that have served millions of young men ... that is just not appropriate," Perry said during a discussion on the Family Research Council's "Stand With Scouts Sunday" event.

"Frankly, I hope the American people stand up and say, 'Not on my watch,'" said Perry, an Eagle Scout who wrote a book on Scouting.

According to Donovan, 60 Scouting units - troops, packs, venture teams - have parish sponsors. Knights of Columbus councils sponsor nine additional units. In total, there are 1,589 Scouts and 1,269 leaders involved.

Volunteers in parish-sponsored Boy Scout troops, Donovan said, "are required to undergo our training and screening requirements and would continue to have to" acknowledge they understand it is their "obligation to abide by the provisions contained in the Code and Policy."

Donovan added: "Beyond the obvious standards for correct moral behavior in sacred Scripture and the tradition of the church ...,'' church personnel are required to: act or behave in a manner consistent with accepted Catholic standards of moral or ethical conduct; act in a manner consistent with civil law and church law; comply with diocesan standards, policies and instructions, including this code; avoid situations that might be perceived as formally rejecting the teachings of the Catholic church and the Christian way of life or promoting causes in direct conflict with the teachings of the Catholic church; act in a manner consistent with a commitment to maintain a celibate and/or chaste lifestyle; refrain from abusing alcohol or drugs; and engage in conduct that has a positive impact on the reputation of the diocese and its parishes, schools, institutions and agencies.

"If a volunteer can't sign the Code," Donovan said in his email, "he or she is not eligible to serve as a volunteer working with children in our parishes. If a volunteer is found to subsequently be in violation of the Code, they are prohibited from volunteer ministry."

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