SALT LAKE CITY — Boy Scouts leaders in Utah want the national organization to slow down and take a breather before it pushes forward with a proposal to move away from its no-gays membership policy.
The Boy Scouts of America announced Monday that it may replace its long-standing ban on gays with a policy that would let troop sponsors make their own decisions. The national executive board is expected to discuss the change Wednesday.
Troop leaders and families of Boy Scouts in Utah were caught off guard by the announcement and need more time to evaluate the consequences of the proposed change, said Kay Godfrey, a spokesman for Boy Scouts in the Great Salt Lake Council.
It is a “sensitive issue” that is causing members “emotional distress,” a post on the council’s website says.
“This effort by the national executive board is ill-conceived and frankly, being forced through,” Godfrey said. “We want time to evaluate this process. We’re the largest council in the U.S. and we weren’t even aware this was being considered.”
Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said the organization “recognizes, deeply respects and appreciates the sincere beliefs about this issue,” but he said there are no updates about plans on the topic.
In Utah, nearly all scouting troops are sponsored by the Mormon church, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City.
The Boy Scouts’ policy change comes on the heels of the most significant move yet from the Mormon church to soften its stance toward gays and lesbians.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched a website in December encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality.
Church officials aren’t changing Mormon teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful, but the website instructs Mormons to be loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.
The church sponsors 99 percent of the 5,000 Scout troops in the Salt Lake City area, Godfrey said. Nationally, the Mormon church has more Boy Scouts than any other denomination, with 37,000 troops and 420,000 youth members, according to figures from the Boy Scouts of America.
Officials at the Mormon church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City declined to weigh in on the announcement this week, opting to wait until it becomes official.
Young Mormon boys are expected to join Boy Scouts, said John Gustav-Wrathall, a former member of the Mormon church who is gay. Gustav-Wrathall, 49, became an Eagle Scout before revealing he is gay and becoming ex-communicated from the church. In recent years, he began attending a Mormon church in Minneapolis again where he feels welcome.
“People are excited, this is good news,” Gustav-Wrathall said this week about the Boy Scouts’ proposed change. “This is another sign of where things are going. If the Boy Scouts are willing to shift in this way, it’s a very positive thing.”
Whether the change actually makes a difference in Mormon scout troops, however, will depend on how Mormon bishops and troop leaders handle situations, Gustav-Wrathall said.
In the Great Salt Lake Council in northern Utah, troop leaders are unsettled by the idea of the change. They’ve “expressed some real concerns about the direction this is going,” Godfrey said.
The council expects to release an official stance on the issue early next week.