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Boy Scout councils on Long Island to allow gay troop leaders

In this file photo, members of Scouts for

In this file photo, members of Scouts for Equality hold a rally to call for equality and inclusion for gays in the Boy Scouts of America as part of the "Scouts for Equality Day of Action" May 22, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Win McNamee

Boy Scout councils in Nassau and Suffolk counties representing more than 20,000 youths will allow gay troop leaders for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The moves follow Monday's decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow troops to pick openly gay volunteer leaders and ban discrimination in the hiring of employees. The decision allowed individual councils, most of which are faith-based, to choose leaders who reflect their own values.

Steven Grosskopf, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Council representing Nassau Scouts, said the group is focused on building character and leadership regardless of sexual preference.

Grosskopf said accepting gay leaders will ultimately benefit both Scouts and religious organizations. "We don't want to focus on what separates us," he said, but rather "what brings us together as one."

Jay Garee, executive director of the Nassau council, said he expects the group to maintain its close relationship with religious sponsors. The council, which has nearly 10,000 Scouts and about 3,800 leaders, is chartered by the national organization and not run by a religious group.

Ryan DiBernardo, who heads the Suffolk County Council, also chartered by the BSA, said its troops will also allow gay leaders.

DiBernardo said he won't let the controversy surrounding the national decision impede the council's goals.

"Suffolk County Council will focus on helping . . . and creating dynamic experiences for our nearly 13,000 youth," he said. The council has about 5,000 leaders.

Temple B'nai Torah in Wantagh has sponsored the Nassau council and hosted Scout-related events for nearly 15 years. Temple administrator Sue-Ellen Pennington said she welcomes the decision.

"I think it's a wonderful move forward," she said.

Pastor Eric Olsen of Plainview's Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, said he, too, supports acceptance of gay Scout leaders. The church regularly hosts Scout meetings and has supported the council for nearly 50 years, he said.

"I am delighted that this ban was lifted so people that are gay may be able to serve in this capacity and share their leadership skills and gifts in this way," Olsen said.

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