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Scouting to allow gay boys starting Jan. 1

The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year's Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications -- ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.

Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a nonevent -- that "it's business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward," as Brad Haddock, a national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee, put it.

Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven't materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of fallout," said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. "If a church said they wouldn't work with us, we'd have a church right down the street say, 'We'll take the troop.' "

There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the United States. Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported excluding gay youth and gay adults.

The change was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would still exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.

Under the new policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely based on sexual orientation. However, gay Scouts will face some limitations.

"Any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," one BSA document says. "No member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation."

Trying to anticipate potential friction, the BSA has distributed extensive explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy.

Example: Could a Scout march in uniform in a gay pride parade?

No, says the BSA. "Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting's official uniforms and insignia when doing so."

BSA anticipated that some objections might surface from parents -- or Scouts themselves -- in cases where a unit includes an openly gay boy.

Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA says it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.

"The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations," the BSA says.

Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders.

"If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored," the BSA says.

Haddock said it's likely "isolated pockets" of problems will surface, but overall he expects adult leaders will have the skills to defuse potential conflicts.

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