- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Gay adults can now serve as Boy Scout leaders, the group decided Monday.

The Irving-based organization’s national executive board voted to lift a blanket ban but will allow individual Scout units to set their own policies for choosing leaders.

The new policy, aimed at resolving a controversy that has ensnared the Boy Scouts for years and threatened the organization with lawsuits, takes effect immediately.

“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth, helping them grow into good, strong citizens,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “By focusing on the goals that unite us, we are able to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”

Forty-five of the 57 board members who cast ballots supported the change. The board has 71 voting members. The Boy Scouts’ 17-member executive committee unanimously approved the proposal earlier this month.

The organization’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, called for the change at the Scouts’ national meeting in May, saying the ban on gay adults was harmful.

He said it was likely to bring lawsuits that the Scouts probably would lose.

“I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement,” he said.

In a statement Monday, Gates said the issue had “divided and distracted” the Boy Scouts for too long.

“Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for 105 years. I am confident we will continue to do so for another century.”

The organization has faced a steady decline in membership and public and corporate support as it has struggled with the debate over gay leaders and members.

Conservative groups say Monday’s vote to allow gay leaders — and an earlier decision to accept gay youths as Scouts — undermined the organization’s traditions.

Despite the decision to allow church-sponsored units to pick their own volunteer leaders, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization.

“When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined,” said a written statement from the Mormon Church, which is the country’s largest sponsor of Scout units.

But others welcomed the change.

Kristi Willbanks of Irving, who has a son who is a Boy Scout, said she is glad the organization took “a stand for acceptance and nondiscrimination.”

Laura Brewster, an Irving educator, also supports the new policy.

“Tolerance and diversity are important lessons for children,” she said. “People should be judged on the content of their character and not who they are attracted to.”

Pat Currie, chief executive officer of the Circle Ten Council, which serves central North Texas, said the decision continues the organization’s tradition of letting local charter partners select leaders who align with their beliefs.

“It also allows families to select troops and organizations that are also consistent with their belief system,” he said. “We are the largest and most successful youth-serving organization in the country with a huge tradition of developing leaders … and we will continue to do that, and that will continue to be our focus.”

Eric Hay, who leads the Dallas Chapter of Scouts for Equality and was a Boy Scout for 12 years, said the decision will benefit youths.

“The Boy Scouts will go on doing what it does best, and no one is going to notice because they’re just going to have a lot more great leaders involved,” he told KTVT-TV (Channel 11).

Staff writer Claire Z. Cardona and The New York Times contributed to this report.

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(c)2015 The Dallas Morning News

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