Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay area Boy Scouts talk about the decision to allow openly gay members

Former Cub Scouts den leader Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted from Scouting because she is openly gay, wears a button on her uniform shirt that reads “We Support All Boy Scouts.”

Associated Press

Former Cub Scouts den leader Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted from Scouting because she is openly gay, wears a button on her uniform shirt that reads “We Support All Boy Scouts.”

Sam Bryant earned the rank of Eagle Scout 21/2 years ago, piling up merit badges, holding leadership positions in Tampa Palms Troop 180 and, for his big project, putting on a dog adoption fair.

"Scouting has made me a better person,'' the Freedom High School junior said Friday. "I gain knowledge of a bunch stuff I don't get anywhere else.''

As for debate over gay Scouts, "I don't think much has changed,'' Bryant said. "I'm not aware that anyone in my troop might be gay. It's just not an issue.''

But in fact, even Bryant's own family reflects some of the passion and varied viewpoints that swirled around this week's decision by Boy Scouts of America to lift its long-time ban on openly gay members.

"It's terrific,'' said his mother, Judy Bryant, a developmental psychologist at the University of South Florida. "Scouting is an excellent experience for young men and the more boys who can benefit from this the better."

She understands that some scouting families might oppose the policy on religious grounds and even withhold financial support, "but at the same time there are going to be many people joining Scouts for the first time,'' she said. "A lot of people believed this was discrimination.''

Her husband, who serves as Sam's scoutmaster, does not object to openly gay Scouts or leaders. But he thinks the decision was prompted "by militant groups who want to attack Boy Scouts and make an issue when there isn't one. And I kind of resent that.''

The old policy was essentially don't ask, don't tell, Dave Bryant said. "Of course we've had homosexuals in Boy Scouts for years. But I've been around for 10 years, and I have never, ever seen a kid asked if you are homosexual.''

As always, inappropriate sexual behavior in a camp will result in discipline, just as with alcohol use or bullying, Bryant said. "We are about turning boys into men of character, using the outdoors experience to facilitate that,'' he said. "It's not about sexuality.''

He worried that the new policy will alienate troops in some parts of the country, which set their own rules in other ways. Some troops in Utah admit only Mormons, he said. Some troops are exclusively Muslim.

"If a unit feels strongly about this issue, it should not be rammed down their throats.''

St. Petersburg resident John Pacowta, 41, earned his Eagle Scout rank 23 years ago and now serves as a Cub Scout master.

Some parents worry that exposure to gay Scout members might influence their children's own sexual orientation, he said, "but people are what they are."

Today's teens are exposed to gay friends and acquaintances in schools and playgrounds, he said. "I think it's a bigger problem for the adults involved than for the kids,'' he said. "Younger people don't think twice about it.''

Florida State University student Brad Robertson, 21, illustrates that point. He earned Eagle Scout rank three years ago.

"Boy Scouts can really help young men develop habits of honesty, trustworthiness and dependability that will help you throughout your life,'' Robert said. "Someone's sexual orientation should not keep them from developing those skills or be forced to hide who they are.''

Robertson wonders how the organization is going to implement its policy on banning openly gay leaders. Scouting tradition encourages Eagle Scouts and others to take on leadership roles after age 18.

How could an openly gay Scout make that transition?

In recent years, the Boy Scouts have developed rules to ensure that adult leaders don't spend time alone with Scouts.

"There always has to be two adults, no matter how many Scouts there are,'' Robertson said. "This is sufficient to keep anything inappropriate from happening, whether the adult leaders are straight or gay.''

Former state Sen. James Sebesta agrees with the national organization's distinction between Scouts and leaders.

Sebesta reached Star rank as a youth, two levels below Eagle Scout, but his grandson Jimmy made it all the way to Eagle last month. "We couldn't be more proud,'' Sebesta said.

But a gay leader "would worry me,'' he said. "The relationship between a Scout leader and a Scout is very, very close, assuming that the boy is really into it.''

If a young Scout is openly gay, "that is his business,'' Sebesta said. "But I don't like the idea that a Scout leader is gay. I will never change.''

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay area Boy Scouts talk about the decision to allow openly gay members 05/24/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. President Donald Trump during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., Sept. 22, 2017. Trump called for football fans to boycott NFL games unless the league fires or suspends players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
  2. Rick and Tom podcast: Worst-Case (Keenum) scenario


    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones break down the Bucs' 34-17 loss to the Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis in their latest podcast.

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) scrambles away from Bucs defensive end William Gholston (92) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Tonight: Hear ideas for remaking downtown Tampa interchange


    TAMPA — New concepts for rebuilding the downtown interchange will be discussed at a Florida Department of Transportation community meeting Monday night.

    The Florida Department of Transportation renamed its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan is now known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Did you watch the second episode of 'Star Trek: Discovery'? Or just the first?


    CBS finally, finally, finally premiered its long-awaited new Star Trek series Discovery on Sunday night, albeit a bit delayed after 60 Minutes.

    Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green play the captain and first officer of the Shenzhou.
  5. Rick Scott's office deleted critical messages related to post-hurricane nursing home deaths

    As Florida continues to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, more confusion builds around the 11 heat-related deaths at a South Florida nursing home following the storm earlier this month.

    Police surround the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills, Fla., which had no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma knocked out power. Several patients at the sweltering nursing home died in the storm's aftermath. [John McCall | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP]