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Scouts' ranks drop after gay youth accepted

13 February 2014, 14:43

Dallas - The Boy Scouts of America said on Wednesday that it lost 6% of its membership after a year in which it announced it would accept openly gay boys for the first time.

The organisation's national leadership voted in May to make that change, while continuing to exclude gay leaders. That angered conservatives and some members who consider homosexuality a sin and a violation of Scouting values.

BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said on Wednesday that the 2013 decline could partially be attributed to that change.

"There are many factors that go into a family's decision to join Scouting, and it's impossible to point to any single factor that influences our membership numbers," Smith said in an email. "This includes, but is not limited to, the limited amount of discretional time and parents wanting relevant programs for their kids."

With nearly 2.5 million youth and almost one million adults, Scouting remains a significant force in communities across the United States, even though its membership has slowly but steadily declined over the last decade.

BSA made the change to accept openly gay youth as it faced mounting public pressure in a nation that is growing more accepting of gays and gay marriage.

Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout who founded the advocacy group Scouts for Equality, said he's heard of no incidents of potential discrimination since the policy went into effect. He said suggestions last year of a mass exodus due to the policy change appear to have been overblown.

The century-old organisation has faced a longer-term challenge to stay relevant with today's youth and their parents. Smith said the organisation recorded a 4% membership decline between 2011 and 2012, with similar declines in some of the years during the last decade.

- AP


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