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Fight not over for gay Scout leaders

By John Gibb

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Eagle Scout Casey Willits knew he was gay at 16 years of age, but being a member of an anti-gay organization left him afraid to come out.

Willits, 31, who now heads the state's only lobbying organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, said he decided to break his silence just before his 18th birthday.

Unfortunately for Willits, honesty had its price. He saw his dream of one day being a Scout leader go up in smoke when he came out.

The ongoing fight to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay youth into the organization ended following the unprecedented vote last Thursday.

Now a new fight has commenced. 

The Boy Scouts did not consider a change to the current membership policy for adult leaders. Therefore, openly gay adults are not permitted to serve as Scout leaders. Although the National Executive Committee has just completed a lengthy review process on the matter, there are no plans for further review.

For Willits, who was named executive director of Fairness West Virginia earlier this month, the recent vote was a good first step but does not put an end to the struggle.

"I came out right before my 18th birthday, and I feared that I could no longer be involved in an organization that meant the world to me," Willits said.

"I earned the highest rank in Scouting and was denied the opportunity to continue my service as a merit badge counselor, certified adult volunteer or Scout leader."

Willits said when a Scout achieves the Order of the Arrow and reaches the rank of Eagle Scout, he essentially makes a promise to continue his service and give back to the organization.

"Scouting is for life," Willits said. "To tell a Scout they are unwelcome on their 18th birthday after they spent the last 18 years serving their community, God and their troop is simply unacceptable. Scouts should not have to stop their service because of their sexual orientation ... it's not right."

He pointed out the organization accepts Scouts with religious beliefs outside Christianity. Some faiths accept LGBT people, and the Boy Scouts should respect those traditions, he said.

Willits points to a change in societal thinking. He said more people are accepting of the LGBT community and are changing their mindsets. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found 60 percent of Americans were accepting of gays, 33 percent were not and 7 percent were indifferent.

The Boy Scouts held its National Annual Meeting last week in Grapevine, Texas. The meeting resulted in the approval of a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone.

Jeff Purdy, Scout executive for the Buckskin Council in Charleston, was in Texas for the vote.

There were 1,232 votes cast. Of those, 757 -- or 61.44 percent -- voted for the resolution.

Purdy was a non-voting delegate. There were three voting delegates from the council, but those votes have not been disclosed because of the secret ballot format.

Purdy said the atmosphere in the room when the result was read was subdued.

"There was no applause, no gasps or sighs," he said. "Everyone was just relieved the process was finished."

Purdy said protesters were kept away from voting delegates and everyone acted in a Scout-like manner. In addition, he said all arguments for and against the resolution were well expressed.

Purdy said he would continue to enforce the national policy regarding gay Scout leaders. He said he has never had an issue with it before and would handle any future issue on a case-by-case basis.

He said he's never removed someone from the Boy Scout ranks because of sexual orientation. He wants to put the issue in the past and get back to Scouting.

"We are focused on giving everyone a chance to be in Scouting and this recent vote aids in that effort," Purdy said.

In a statement released after the vote, Larry Hudson, Buckskin Council president, said, "I believe this update to our policy will allow all kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing program while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of Scouting. 

"While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth. Going forward, we will work to stay focused on that which unites us," the statement read.

The resolution takes effect Jan. 1. If any Scout comes out before that date, the decision falls to that Scout's individual council.

"Jan. 1 is a good date for gay youth to put on their calendar," Willits said. "Fairness is a priority in Scouting."

Contact writer John C. Gibb at john.gibb@dailymail.com or 304-348-4872.

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