Support grows for gay Scouts

Local Boy Scouts and officials from the Redwood Empire Council are applauding an effort to partially repeal the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay Boy Scouts, but say it does not go far enough.

The national organization is preparing to vote on a resolution, released in April and set to go before the approximately 1,400 voting members of the BSA during the national meeting the week of May 20 in Texas, that says no young person should be turned away from scouting based on sexual orientation. However, it keeps in place a ban on gay troop leaders, as well as involvement by gay parents.

"While it's a step in the right direction, it's disappointing to hear that they aren't just lifting the ban altogether" said Steven Cozza, a former professional cyclist and Petaluma Eagle Scout who has been fighting the Boy Scouts' ban on homosexuals since 1997 when he was only 12 years old. "It's complete insanity — in this day and age — that people are still shunning gay people."

After hearing numerous complaints about its longstanding ban on openly gay participants, BSA leadership conducted a study to test the waters on possibly reversing the policy, which was adopted in the 1970s. But as a private group largely funded by religious organizations — primarily the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — BSA officials have struggled with the potential loss of support from conservative organizations heavily involved in the Scouts.

Conservative backers have threatened to pull their support and membership if the BSA completely lifts its ban on gay participation, though just last week, the Latter Day Saints announced that it supported allowing gay Scouts to participate, agreeing that no child should be turned away from scouting.

While there is growing support for allowing young gay Scouts into the organization, there is much less support for allowing gay adult members to participate. After conducting the nationwide survey in February, the BSA estimated that allowing gay adults' participation in the organization would cause up to 350,000 of the current 2.6 million youth members to drop out.

On the other side of the issue, many organizations, including the California State Legislature, have condemned the Scouts' ban on homosexuals as discriminatory and have also threatened to pull financial support and resources if the Boy Scouts do not reverse their policy. Currently, a state bill is working its way through the California legislature, aimed at denying the Boy Scouts certain nonprofit tax breaks until the organization allows homosexuals to participate.

Locally, a public movement to lift the ban has been in the works since at least 1997, when Cozza joined his father and Petaluma Scout Master David Rice in speaking out against banning gay participants. Rice was later ousted from the Scouts for allegedly influencing Cozza to join his cause — a charge that both men vehemently deny.

Petaluma Troop 2 Committee Chairman Jason Stewart, who has also spoken out against the ban on gays in the BSA, said that the proposal before the voting members of the BSA is not going far enough to really address the discrimination occurring within the BSA.

"I thinks it's a step in the right direction, but not enough," Stewart said. "It's great that there could be kids out there who now get to do scouting, but what about the kid who makes it all the way through the Scouts, becomes an Eagle Scout and wants to help other kids (as a troop leader)? We have to tell him that he can't? That's not right."

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