About 1,500 Boy Scouts in the Sam Houston Area Council have either quit or joined another scouting program since a policy allowing openly gay youths to participate in the program was announced in May, a council spokesperson said Friday.
In reaction to the policy, which took effect on Jan. 1, some Bryan-College Station parents transferred their children to Trail Life USA, a more conservative scouting program. The scouting alternative was formed shortly after the Boy Scouts of America made the resolution official through a vote.
Michael Parks was one of the 1,200 members who voted on the resolution in May at a national convention in Grapevine. Even though he's opposed, Parks said he isn't ready to give up on the program that turned him into an Eagle Scout.
"To simply turn my back on a program that I believe in because of that is not something I'm willing to do at this time," said Parks, who volunteers with his son's troop.
The resolution states "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." It passed with a 61 percent majority, or 757 votes.
Officials with the Boy Scouts and the Sam Houston Area Council, which is based in Houston, are hoping the policy's installment continues to be a spectacle-free event.
"We don't anticipate any issues with our new policy," Lynda Sanders, director of marketing and communication for the council, wrote in an email. "While there has been a relatively small number of churches, donors, and members who discontinued their involvement in scouting after the decision to change our policy, overall there has been very limited impact."
Sanders estimated the year-end membership fell 3 percent to about 48,000, down from about 49,500. The council covers scouts in the Brazos Valley and greater Houston area. Official membership numbers won't be available until Jan. 13, she said.
Parks said that he thinks the policy is a big event.
"I think statements matter," he said, adding that he feels powerless to affect change.
"Some would say the BSA caved to political correctness," he said.
Parks said his son's troop leaders have discussed the policy, but the scouts aren't saying much about it.
"I don't know that the boys care," he said.
On the Boy Scouts website, several powerpoints and informational pages offer details about the policy and the plans for implementation.
The policy doesn't affect any of the programs or learning exercises. It only addresses a scout's ability to be open about his sexual orientation. Openly gay volunteers and troop leaders are still not allowed to serve in the Boy Scouts. Even if they serve as openly gay throughout the program, when they are adults they will have to re-apply to become a volunteer under the current guidelines.
After the vote, a task force was formed to conduct interviews and assess the best way to implement the policy. The group issued a report in August that stated the policy is in line with the BSA's overall values, which include "Duty to God, Duty to Country, Duty to Others and Duty to Self."
"While people have different opinions about this policy, kids are better off when they are in Scouting," the report stated. There was no data to support the claim.
The rules also state that any openly gay scouts may not wear their uniforms at any event "to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation."
The Boy Scouts have taken some political heat from the policy. But they'll soon have an expert at the helm who is used to drawing fire in the fight for gay rights.
Robert Gates, the former Texas A&M University president, is set to become the Boy Scouts' national president in May. Gates served as the defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and helped to dismantle the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2010.
Gates is serving as the chancellor of the College of William & Mary. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.
Parents who are concerned about privacy issues on campouts may make special arrangements for separate tents with troop leaders, according to the website.
As part of a push to increase privacy, the BSA is converting its bathrooms to have individual toilet and shower stalls. Troop leaders may also set up private showering times if a scout feels uncomfortable, the guidelines state.
Troop leaders are being encouraged to watch for behavior that goes against the principles of Scouting. Bullying and hazing are strictly prohibited, according to the Scouting.org site. Sexual contact of any kind between all scouts, male and female, is explicitly forbidden, the rules state.
The website also provides information about how to reprimand scouts who are violating the policy. Details about possible punishments were not available.
"Each incident would be reviewed individually with the chartering organization to address and resolve the issue," Sanders wrote. The council's spokesperson deferred all other questions about the policy to the "membership standards" section of the BSA website.