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Boy Scouts of America Cancels Ban on Gay Leaders, Workers

The Boy Scouts of America has cancelled its policy barring openly gay adults from serving as scout leaders and employees. The policy was set up to keep boys away from homosexuals -- people who are sexually interested in members of the same sex.

Now, that is changing. But local Boy Scout groups linked to religious organizations still have a right to bar gays from serving as scout leaders or camp counselors.

About two-thirds of the more than 100,000 Boy Scout units nationwide have ties to religious organizations. The others have ties to civic groups or educational organizations.

The Boy Scouts’ announcement may be an attempt by the 105-year-old organization to stop falling membership. Observers say it is also aimed at satisfying the demands of religious groups while at the same time avoiding legal action. They say the organization’s leadership is concerned about possible court cases by gay rights activists.

Robert Gates is the president of the Boy Scouts of America. He served as Secretary of Defense for two presidents: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Mr. Gates spoke about the decision shortly after it was announced.

“For far too long, this issue has divided and distracted us. Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good.”

Some Christian leaders criticized the decision. One of them was Robert Jeffress. He heads the First Baptist Church Dallas in Texas.

“Remember it was just a few years ago that the Boy Scouts were forced to release 14,000 pages of documents -- the so-called perversion files -- that detailed thousands of sexual assault cases of troop leaders against boy scouts.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports more Boy Scout units than any other religious group. Members of the church are known as Mormons. After the decision was announced, the group released a statement. It said the church’s 100 year-long relationship with the Boy Scouts of America will “need to be examined.”

Some religious groups are urging their members to send their boys to organizations other than the Boy Scouts.

One such group is Trail Life USA. Its website says Trail Life USA has links to Christian groups in almost every state. It says “the morals and values of our country are deteriorating…and are becoming increasingly opposed to true Christian values.”

However, some parents support the Boy Scouts of America’s decision.

Oliver Tessier is the father of a boy who is an Eagle Scout. That is the highest level of scouting.

“You’re taught to be honest. You’re taught to be trustworthy. You’re taught to be generous, caring. Discrimination is none of those things.”

The new policy took effect as soon as it was announced.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA's Zlatica Hoke reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

gay – adj. sexually attracted to or interested in people of the same sex; homosexual

counselor – n. a person who is responsible for young people at a camp

unit – n. a single thing or group that is a part of something larger

distract – v. to take (attention) away from someone or something

perversion – n. sexual behavior that people think is not normal or natural

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