Minnesota's biggest Boy Scout group: Gays are welcome

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 2:46 PM

Northern Star Council welcomes gay Scouts as BSA reaffirms policy to bar "open, avowed homosexuals."

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Ira Mitchell has previously kept his sons, from left, Asher, 8, Field, 12, and Owen, 9, from joining the Boy Scouts because “my kids are not going to be in an organization that discriminates against gay people.” The Northern Star Council’s stand has him reconsidering his position, though.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Minnesota's biggest Boy Scout group said Tuesday that gays and lesbians remain welcome in its troops, despite a national announcement that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will continue to bar leaders, employees and members who are "open or avowed homosexuals."

"We're a reflection of the community," said Kent York, spokesman for the Northern Star Council, which has 75,000 Scouts in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. "Our commitment has been to reach out to all young people and have a positive influence."

York said that the Twin Cities-based Scout council, one of the nation's largest, will continue to follow a 12-year-old "inclusive leadership selection" practice.

When asked how they could differ from the national policy, York said that it had "worked for us."

"Every council is reflective of their community," he said.

The national policy says that while the Boy Scouts do 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."

The national organization, based in Texas, decided to stand by the policy after an 11-member committee spent two years reviewing it.

In a statement Tuesday, national officials announced that they unanimously agreed to keep the long-standing policy despite protests because it "remains in the best interest of scouting" and "reflects the beliefs and perspectives" of its members.

"While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society," Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca said.

The statement added that the Boy Scouts don't criticize or condemn "those who wish to follow a different path," but that homosexuality should be left to parents, spiritual advisers and others.

Both the state and national Girl Scouts of the USA allow lesbian members and troop leaders in its ranks.

"We've always been inclusive," said Sara Danzinger of the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. She added that the Boy Scouts "are a brother organization, but this is just an area where we differ."

For years, Ira Mitchell of Eagan has turned down his three sons' requests to join the Boy Scouts because of the national group's stance on gays.

"As a parent it was important for me to not have my kids in an organization that promotes that exclusivity," said Mitchell, whose sons are ages 12, 9 and 8. "I'm going to have to teach them what I learned in scouting on my own."

After learning about the Northern Star Council's "inclusive leadership," Mitchell said he'd reconsider his decision to keep his sons out of scouting.

Other parents of local Boy Scouts disagreed with Mitchell and commended the national organization for addressing their concerns.

"They're trying to protect the boys, not excluding people, and making people feel comfortable when you send a boy on a trip," said one mother, who asked not to be named.

John Chatelaine of Lakeville, an Eagle Scout who now has a son in a Boy Scout troop, said he approved of the policies of the Northern Star Council and the national Scouts.

"I'm glad the national organization is seeking employee policies that are motivated by the safety of the boys," he said.

He said the Northern Star Council is following another scouting principle -- bravery.

"They are both following the points of the scout law. Neither side is right, and neither side is wrong," he said.

The Boy Scouts' announcement Tuesday didn't surprise Margaret Miller of south Minneapolis, who has an 11-year-old in scouting. But she was disappointed.

"They are conservative," she said. "I think for these kind of groups, it's going to take a while."

The Boy Scouts have received a lot of feedback from both sides of the issue. But spokesman Deron Smith said via e-mail that he didn't think the long-standing policy will affect membership in the Scouts, which has 2.7 million members.

At the Northern Star Council, the largest Scout council among six in Minnesota, York agreed with Smith.

The council's inclusive practice "seems to be accepted by our diverse community as sensible and straightforward," he said in an e-mail. "People understand that it is very difficult to find consensus across different regions of the country."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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