The Boy Scouts of America has again denied it is reviewing its policy that denies membership to homosexuals, with the leader of the Westark Council representing 17 counties in northwest Arkansas — to include the Fort Smith area and areas in north central Arkansas — saying it is an issue rarely discussed at the local level.
Westark Council CEO Bryan Feather said the council will “fully support the national position on our membership standards.” However, the issue of sexual preference is not part of the “character development” focus of the Westark Council, Feather said.
“Honestly, it’s not really an issue that comes up very often at the local level,” Feather explained. “We essentially don’t introduce anything in our program that addresses the topic of sexuality.”
The Fort Smith-based Westark Council has about 6,500 members in its 17-county area and partners with a little more than 235 organizations.
Feather began with The Boy Scouts in 1991 in Orlando, and transferred to the Westark Council about eight years ago. In his time with the Westark Council, Feather said he has not seen a shift in thought or pressure from the Westark Council leadership to oppose the BSA national membership policy.
Tom Minton, executive director of the Fort Smith Area United Way, said he is not aware if the BSA membership policy is ever discussed when allocations are made from the United Way to the Westark Council.
“Those are decisions made by our volunteers,” Minton said of the allocation process.
The BSA policy on membership related to gays is: "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
In explaining the position, the BSA included this statement: “Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.”
The policy has been a public relations issue for the BSA since 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to determine if the BSA membership policy excluding gays was Constitutional. The Court said forcing the BSA to change its policy violated its freedom of association because "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints."
Recently, petitions were again submitted asking the BSA to change the policy. A high-profile submission came from Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout who has two lesbian mothers. On May 30, he delivered 275,000 signed petitions to Boy Scout leaders at their national board meeting in Orlando, Fla.
A flurry of media reports ensued, with many suggesting BSA leaders were officially reviewing the policy.
“Contrary to media reports, the Boy Scouts of America has no plans to change its membership policy. The introduction of a resolution does not indicate the organization is ‘reviewing’ a policy or signal a change in direction,” the BSA noted in its statement. (See the full statement below.)
This is not the first time the BSA has had to deal with sensitive membership issues. In the early to mid-1900s, the BSA said blacks should be allowed to join, but gave local organizations the right to follow the policy of local school systems. For many decades, the local-control policy meant blacks, especially in the South, weren’t allowed to join Boy Scout troops.