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BSA Membership Standards Implementation Resources

The BSA has recently released their initial implementation resources addressing the change to membership standards voted on at this year’s annual meeting.

Membership Standards Implementation Resources

Upon approval of the membership standards resolution in May of 2013, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America began reviewing its policies and guidelines through the combined leadership of volunteers and professionals.

The resources here are designed to help our unit leaders continue to deliver the Scouting program to all youth.

Scouting’s greatest strength is its volunteers. Their strong, committed leadership and good judgment in working with youth is the key to our current and future success, as it has been for more than 100 years. With their experience and wisdom, Scouting will continue to be the iconic symbol of strength, character, leadership, and faith.

A review of the Frequently Asked Questions for Unit Leaders provides initial guidance on implementing the change. The short story is not much, if anything, changes in the day-to-day the program works. Here’s my summary of the FAQ:

In the introduction:

Of course, there is no way the BSA can answer every possible question that may arise. Ultimately, people in  leadership positions must exercise good judgment, all the time asking the key question they have always asked: “What is in the best interest of the youth we serve?”

We are all doing this anyway, right? We apply our training and available resources to presenting the program in the way that best benefits and serves the interests of our youth membership.

The complete membership resolution voted on in May follows. The actual membership standards statement itself is at the end on page 5:

Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership  requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in  any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of  Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct  and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

One thing has changed about youth membership standards: no youth can be denied membership based on sexual orientation or preference alone.

I’ll note here that the debate about whether or not this is a good change is over, the new standard is passed and will go into effect the first of next year. Our next task as leaders is to address any practical concerns that arise once it does, so I’d like to make that the basis of our conversation rather than re-arguing the issue.

I think  this statement in the FAQ helps clarify the way forward:

The resolution reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether  heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. Also, it  states that no member may use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda, including on the matter of sexual orientation.

In other words nothing has changed. We’ve never permitted sexual conduct, or the advocacy of any social or political position or agenda. How do we parse those general statements if specific concerns arise? Once again by asking the question; “What is in the best interest of the youth we serve?” and applying good judgement.

As the debate was brewing this past spring questions of accommodations and logistics arose.  The FAQ answers these questions. First their’s some  general guidance:

Youth Privacy and Accommodations

The BSA has stringent policies that protect the safety and privacy of youth and adult members. Scouting has always worked to ensure that it is a supportive and safe environment for all young people, both physically and emotionally. The following points are important as we move forward:

This change in membership standards is not a youth protection issue. To consider it a youth protection issue would lead one to believe that sexual abuse and victimization is considered inherent to same-sex attraction. This is not the case.

The change in policy concerns healthy child and adolescent development and should be addressed as such. As always, our leaders are key to ensuring that the BSA always acts in the best interest of our youth members.

No youth should be singled out as a result of this change. If that were to happen, it would likely set up those youth to be bullied or ostracized.

Very clear, unambiguous and decisive. Sexual orientation is not a youth protection issue, focus on the best interest of your Scouts, assure that there’s an atmosphere of goodwill.

The FAQ goes on to include specific guidance on the following:

Should there be special arrangements made for showering, swimming, lifeguarding, and changing areas?
Personal activity involving bathrooms, showers, hygiene, and dressing are respected as private. A general move toward individual toilet and shower facilities is already underway and individuals needing additional privacy can take appropriate actions on their own or request others to be respectful of their needs. As always, the adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations, as needed. The privacy and security of our youth members is among our top priorities.

Should special arrangements be made to accommodate youth in camp, on trips, or during events based on same-sex attraction?
Requests by units for special accommodation to camp/participate with others, or to be exclusive from others, is  discouraged. We are all Scouts and are accepting of all members of the Scouting family.

Will there be any changes to current policies regarding sleeping arrangements on Scout activities?
We know that separate accommodations must be provided for members of the opposite sex in the Venturing program. Each unit’s leadership along with their committee will be responsible for working with their parents to determine appropriate sleeping arrangements. This is consistent with current practices that allow for unit leaders, in consultation with parents, to use their discretion to ensure the safety and comfort of the youth members in their charge. In the past, there have been a variety of issues that required these conversations and this will follow that process. The training materials will reflect this direction.

What should the age difference be between youth tenting together?
It is recommended that there be no more than a three-year age separation between Scouts tenting together. If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored.

It’s clear from these statements that equanimity, care for the concerns of youth members and their parents, and addressing their concerns wisely is, as always, dependant on our unit level volunteers applying their training and good judgement.

I’ve highlighted a few of the specific logistical concerns I heard repeated many times this past spring. The FAQ addresses a few other questions, I recommend reading it.

I know there are differing levels of comfort with and acceptance of the new membership standards. My best advice to all of us is to review the FAQ carefully with an open mind.

Check out the current training resources on this page. The FAQ refers to  training materials to be released this fall,  so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for any further information and share it with you here.