Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

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

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.

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