Les Boy Scouts américains vont accepter dans leurs rangs à partir de mercredi, le 1er janvier, les jeunes homosexuels en tant que membres, un changement qui ne fait pas l'unanimité.
Durant deux décennies l'association a banni explicitement les jeunes homosexuels, contrairement à certaines organisations plus ouvertes, comme les Girl Scouts, qui accueillent des jeunes filles. Mais en mai dernier l'assemblée générale des scouts américains a voté à plus de 61% pour la levée de cette interdiction, même si celle-ci reste en vigueur pour les adultes encadrant.
"Nous estimons que chaque enfant mérite d'avoir la possibilité de faire partie des scouts", a expliqué le directeur des relations publiques des Boy Scouts, Deron Smith, dans un courriel à l'AFP. Pascal Tessier, 17 ans, s'apprête ainsi à devenir l'un des premiers membres des Boy Scouts ouvertement homosexuel: "Jusqu'alors je ne pouvais pas dire ouvertement que j'étais homosexuel. C'est quelque chose que je vais enfin pouvoir faire", a expliqué à la télévision WRC le jeune homme qui habite en banlieue de Washington. Les Boy Scouts américains (BSA), une association fondée en 1910, rassemblent 2,6 millions de jeunes garçons encadrés par un million de bénévoles dans 110.000 troupes.
Plus d'1,5 million de ses membres sont âgés de 7 à 11 ans. Cependant, 70% des organisations membres des BSA sont religieuses et cette nouvelle politique ne va pas sans faire grincer quelques dents. L'Eglise mormone, plus gros sponsor des BSA, a par exemple souligné qu'elle acceptait de voir des scouts homosexuels à condition qu'ils se conforment à certains "standards", qui incluent "l'abstinence en matière de relations sexuelles". D'autres associations se sont éloignées des BSA, comme la Troupe 835 à Auburn, dans l'Etat de Washington (nord-ouest), dont les membres adultes de l'encadrement estiment que l'homosexualité est contraire aux principes bibliques. "Dire que nous sommes croyants et respectueux, et en même temps aller contre quelque chose que Dieu a dit spécifiquement, ça ne me va pas", a ainsi expliqué Jim Brass à la télévision KING.
>> Boy Scouts of America enters new era as group opens to gay youth on Jan. 1
For 103 years, Boy Scout Troop 101, one of the oldest west of the Mississippi River, has called Pomona First Baptist Church home. But that relationship will end on New Year’s Day when the church will sever ties with the troop over the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to admit openly gay youth.
The split between the southern California troop and its long-time sponsor is one example of the fallout from the Boy Scouts’ new membership policy, which takes effect Jan. 1. "Had the organization not made a decision that moved in an entirely different direction than where it had been for the last 100 years,” said Peter Torry, executive pastor of Pomona First Baptist Church, “we'd still be chartering them."
BSA’s controversial decision to admit openly gay youth has generated tense debate among much of the organization’s 2.6 million youth members, their families and alumni since a vote on the issue last May. Some families and troops who were opposed to the new policy have left for alternate groups. Others who support it have joined or returned to the Boy Scouts. And still others have decided to stay with the Scouts although they oppose the change.
So far, the vast majority of charter partners nationwide have chosen to remain Scout sponsors, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith. The organization estimates that less than 2 percent of its 116,000 troops and packs were dropped by their sponsors.
In Pomona, church officials delivered the news in mid-December that Troop 101’s charter would not be renewed after it expired on Dec. 31, leaving troop leaders scrambling to find another sponsor within weeks. On Sunday, the troop voted to accept an offer from a new partner, also a church. Scoutmaster James Meyette said he felt “encouraged.”
“We have somewhere where we’re wanted,” said Meyette, 44, a father of two boys in Scouting. “It is a relief knowing that the troop is not going to fade away.”
“What we’ll be able to take away from this is being able to teach the boys that life isn’t always neat and tidy,” said Meyette, who will be charged with clearing out troop relics and equipment from the church, including photos of its Scouts pre-dating World War II. How one deals with change and moves forward “is going to define you,” he added.
One unanswered question for troops across the nation has been how members who opposed the gay youth policy but were sticking with the Scouts would handle the change. Meyette said he had his own "come-to-Jesus moment."
"I had to ask myself a simple question: ‘What would Jesus do?’" he said. He then determined: “We are all equal in God’s eyes, and I’m going to try to hold that standard to myself.”
The Boy Scouts seemed to be hoping that members who opposed including gay youth would come around, noting in many statements that it felt families would ultimately stay in one of America’s most popular youth programs.
“The new policy allows kids who sincerely want to experience this life-changing program while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of the Boy Scouts of America,” Smith said.
After the vote, the organization reviewed its policies to ensure a smooth transition. It issued a guide in August on the admission of gay youth and has been working with local Scouting officials on specific issues that arise. But “no major changes were required to implement the new policy,” Smith said in an email.
Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, said he felt the BSA would learn that there was nothing to worry about by admitting gay youth. “The biggest result of this change is simply going to be people wondering what all the fuss is about,” said Wahls, an Eagle Scout and son of a lesbian couple.
Even many religious organizations, which make up about 70 percent of BSA charter partners, have stayed aligned with the Boy Scouts despite the membership change. Some of the largest church backers – such as The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors some 430,000 troops, United Methodist Men and the Catholic Church – encouraged their members to stay with the Scouts, while the Southern Baptist Convention allowed churches to decide.
A LDS statement supporting the Boy Scouts was read at Mormon religious services in the summer, and the National Catholic Committee on Scouting also posted a Q&A on its website to clarify what the policy change meant.
Nonetheless, an alternate faith-based Scouting group formed in the wake of the vote is preparing to welcome many ex-Boy Scouts into its organization. The group, Trail Life USA, launches on Jan. 1. It will not allow open and avowed gay youth, according to board chairman John Stemberger, a former BSA Scoutmaster.
Some 425 units, with an average of 20 boys, have signed up with Trail Life USA. About half of the incoming adults and youth were formerly with the Boy Scouts, said Stemberger. “We’re not trying to compete with the BSA,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide a quality program for those that want it.”
While some families were leaving the Boy Scouts over the inclusion of gay youth, others were joining, like Jack Wallace, 9, of LaSalle, Ill. A few years ago he had asked his mother, Christy Donahue, if he could participate, and she said no because the group didn’t accept everyone.
When he approached her again this fall with a Cub Scouts leaflet, she told him he could sign up.
“I freaked out, like happily freaked out,” said Jack, a fourth grader. He said he enjoys earning the badges and is looking forward to his first Pinewood Derby.
For Donahue, 50, who previously had no experience with the Boy Scouts but now volunteers with her son’s pack, it was great to be part of the organization’s next phase. “I believe that the true heart of the Boy Scouts is the direction that they’re going,” she said.
The BSA said it wouldn’t be keeping tabs on the number of gay Scouts coming forward. There has never been a place for talk of sexuality – straight or gay – in the program, the group has said.
But Pascal Tessier, a 17-year-old gay Boy Scout from Kensington, Md., who can now apply for the BSA’s highest honor – the Eagle rank – over the next few weeks, feels things will be different going forward for gay youth in Scouting. Though he is disappointed that gay adults still are excluded from participating in the Boy Scouts, he is “ecstatic” that the new policy will finally go into effect and doesn't think it's impact will be limited to people in the organization.
“It obviously encourages people to be who they are and not be afraid to come out,” he said, noting he felt this would be another sign “that the times are changing and that it’s okay to be gay.”
If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's change to the membership policy, you can email the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.
Par Miranda Leitsinger, Staff Writer, NBC News