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Local Scout leaders, parents discuss participation of gays in organization

March 11, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — With the Boy Scouts of America’s longtime membership policy burning under the heat of the national spotlight, the debate about whether or not to allow openly gay people to participate in the organization took the local stage Monday night.

Close to 50 people, including adult leaders and parents of Scouts in the local Mason-Dixon Council, or MDC, attended a Monday night meeting at Hagerstown’s Northern Middle School to hear an update about what’s taking place nationally, and to ask questions and express opinions about the potential change in national policy.

“Through a variety of reasons, the membership standard of excluding known or avowed homosexuals — that policy for adults — has been under review,” MDC Scout Executive Mark Barbernitz said after the nearly two-hour meeting. “The executive committee was set to vote on that in February, but chartered partners expressed concern that they wanted some input into the process.”

A nationally prepared slide presentation was shown at the start of the meeting, outlining the ongoing internal review of the BSA’s 103-year-old policy.

The six-part review, which began in February, is expected to culminate with a vote on any proposed policy revision by Scout leaders during the organization’s national annual meeting, scheduled for May 22 to 24.

Until then, local organizations are holding meetings to gather feedback that will be delivered up the chain of command for consideration if the Scouts’ national leaders decide to amend national policy, according to Mark Hoffman, president of the MDC’s board of directors.

“At what point does the discrimination stop?” one man asked, referring to gay and lesbian groups trying to force their ways of life onto what another speaker called “one of the last good things in the United States” in reference to the Scouts.

Another man acknowledged that there’s a “huge difference between a gay person and a pedophile,” adding that it’s more important for parents to have an open dialogue with their children about the issue and how to tell a Scout leader if they ever feel uncomfortable.

“Personal opinions and emotions are mixing with facts and society changes, and we need to reconcile that, basically,” Barbernitz said, noting sexuality was an issue reserved for adults and never a topic discussed with youth in the Scouts. “We need to come up with a policy that everyone may not agree with, but come May 23 after the national vote, we’ll all come behind and refocus and stay focused on serving the kids.”

The controversial debate has already hurt the Scouts program monetarily, Barbernitz said.

In the Northeast region alone, the BSA has lost several major donors in the last few years, including $7.5 million from United Way, Barbernitz said. He also said Scouts might lose further support from churches and other sponsors the longer the debate continues.

The MDC, which includes about 2,300 families in Washington County, as well as parts of Fulton and Franklin counties in Pennsylvania, will hold another meeting Monday, March 18, at Greencastle-Antrim High School at 7 p.m.

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