COLUMBIA — With last week's vote to lift the ban on gays in Scouting, a local activist and former Scouts praised the decision and predicted that few people would leave the Boy Scouts in protest.
The Boy Scouts of America voted May 23 to remove the ban. Howard Hutton, who had started an online petition in support of lifting the ban, said he thought removing it was an important step.
"It's a big leap for some people," Hutton said. "I think this will be helpful."
Hutton said he has been involved with the Boy Scouts for most of his life. He officially became involved with Scouting when he was 8, but before that, he attended Scouting activities with his older brothers. He is now council coordinator for Scouts for Equality.
Scout Executive Doug Callahan, who was at the meeting in Texas where the vote took place, said he did not yet have a sense of how the community was reacting to the decision. He said the Boy Scouts hoped the vote would unite more people on common beliefs.
"There are some people who will disagree," Callahan said. "Hopefully, now that we're past that, we're going to move forward. Other things in Scouting are more important."
The Great Rivers Council, which includes Boone County, voted in support of lifting the ban on gay Scouts. The ban on openly gay adult Scout leaders was not voted on at the national meeting in Texas and remains in place.
Hutton said he did not think the decision would lead many people to leave the Boy Scouts. He said people have been involved in Scouting for a long time and would stay involved long enough to realize that lifting the ban will make little difference in how the Boy Scouts of America operates.
"I don't think it's going to make much of an impact in Columbia or anywhere," Hutton said.
Hutton also predicted religious organizations would continue to support the Boy Scouts, despite having opposed lifting the ban.
More than 70 percent of Scouting units in the United States receive financial support from religious institutions, according to the Associated Press.
Hutton became active in opposing the ban after it was formally adopted in 1991. He cited Zach Wahls, the son of two lesbian women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist in Iowa, as an inspiration for his activism. Wahls is also executive director of Scouts for Equality.
Hutton said people need to keep pushing to have the ban on openly gay Scout leaders lifted.
"Boy Scouts was not set up to be exclusive or to marginalize," Hutton said.
According to the Boy Scouts of America 2012 Report to the Nation, 2.6 million children and more than 1 million adult volunteers participated in Scouting in 2012. There were 6,777 Scouts in the Great Rivers Council at the end of 2011, the last year the council released a report.
Protests against the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy increased in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Scouts' right to exclude gays, according to the Associated Press.
Jared Nash, who was interested in the ban because he is gay and was a Scout when he was young, said he believes lifting the ban will be beneficial to the Boy Scouts and make the organization stronger.
"Part of what the Boy Scouts teaches is being leaders and helping others," Nash said. Excluding gay Scouts is contradictory to the Boy Scouts' message, he said.
Nash also said he didn't think lifting the ban will hurt the Boy Scouts financially because any money withdrawn by sponsors will be replaced by gay-friendly organizations.
But James Patterson, who also scouted as a boy and has gay family members, said he thought some religious institutions that now support Scout troops will withdraw funding. At the same time, lifting the ban will improve the quality of Scouting in the long run, and more boys will Scout as they feel more accepted and less afraid to be open about their sexuality. Patterson also said he hoped allowing gay youth to join Scouting would make them less likely to become victims of bullying.
"Having this ban lifted will allow just one more organization, event, lifestyle to be offered to more boys out there," Patterson said. "Boy Scouts just isn't about community and survival skills, it's about teamwork, coming together as a whole, being selfless and showing love for all people and individuals."
The Girl Scouts of America does not have a ban on gay members or leaders and prohibits discrimination on any basis, including sexual orientation.