Former area Boy Scouts react to decision allowing gay scouts

Though he was not out as gay at the time, Lawrence resident and Kansas University graduate Matt Williams said the issue of sexual orientation never came up during his involvement with the Boy Scouts in Wichita, where he became an Eagle Scout in 2006.

It was just a non-issue, and that’s one of the reasons he sees the vote Thursday by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to allow gay youth to particpate in the program as “a step in the right direction.”

“I look back on my time in the organization fondly and hope that it continues to stay relevant and accepting of all those that wish to join,” Williams said.

The Scouts’ longstanding ban on gay adults remains in force, and many liberal Scout leaders — as well as gay-rights groups — plan to continue pressing for an end to that exclusion, as well, even though the BSA’s top officials aren’t ready for that step.

Thursday’s vote was conducted by secret ballot during the National Council’s annual meeting near Dallas. Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee to overturn the ban. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.

“This has been a challenging chapter in our history,” the BSA’s chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote. “While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they’re in Scouting.”

Mark Brayer, director of support for the BSA’s Heart of America Council, which oversees Lawrence and northeast Kansas, said his office is awaiting instructions about implementing the new policy. Brayer declined comment about the vote, but said their office had five votes in the decision, but was not able to say how those votes were cast.

The vote has been mired in controversy, with numerous conservative groups and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former scout, speaking out against the new policy.

Olathe man Terry Blastenbrei, a former Boy Scout in the 1980s and 1990s while growing up in St. Louis, said he’s pleased with the vote. He said he has declined involvement in the Scouts, where he gained some of his “fondest memories from my childhood and teenage years” because of the organization’s views on gays and non-Christians.

Scouting should be about inclusion, he said.

“I do not believe that excluding people such as gays and ahteists is what Scouting is all about,” Blastenbrei said.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.