Boy Scouts' shift on allowing gays draws praise locally

Boy Scouts salute early Saturday morning, May 21, 2011 during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Camporee in Sea Girt, N.J. The Boy Scouts of America's National Council has voted to ease a long-standing ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted as Scouts, Thursday, May 23, 2013. Of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, file)
Boy Scouts salute early Saturday morning, May 21, 2011 during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Camporee in Sea Girt, N.J. The Boy Scouts of America's National Council has voted to ease a long-standing ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted as Scouts, Thursday, May 23, 2013. Of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, file) (Mel Evans)
Posted: May 25, 2013

Mack Finkel remembers when the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members morphed for him from an abstract concept into a palpable reality.

It was a few years ago, when Finkel, now 17 and an Eagle Scout, was in eighth grade. On the last night of a camping trip with his troop, Finkel's friend, during a private conversation, came out. If his friend did so publicly, however, he risked being kicked out of the troop.

"That's when I realized that scouting was forcing him to hide that part of his identity," Finkel said Thursday, without identifying the friend because of privacy concerns. "He didn't have a gay agenda or anything. He was just concerned he wouldn't be able to go backpacking with me over the summer."

Finkel, from Mount Airy, who is straight, no longer has to worry about gay scouts being kicked out. The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to allow gay scouts within its ranks starting Jan. 1, a policy shift that, while engendering controversy nationally, was generally welcomed with open arms by many scouting-affiliated area residents.

"I think it's a great idea," said James Gardner, scoutmaster for Troop 63 in Lansdowne. "It's a long time coming with the changing society."

While many locals were quick with their praise, some expressed a caveat as well, since the organization's ban on openly gay scout leaders remains in place.

Gregory Lattara, who was kicked out of his South Philadelphia troop a decade ago after he came out, described Thursday's announcement as "bittersweet."

"In the sense of allowing gay kids, period, it's great," he said. "But at the same time, its like, 'We don't mind that you're gay now, but once you're 18, we have to get rid of you.' "

Tom Ferrari, 30, an old assistant scoutmaster of Troop 48 in Berlin, Camden County, agreed, saying that a gay Eagle Scout was dismissed from the troop a few years ago. He said he wished that scout could return.

"It shouldn't matter whether you're gay, straight, whatever, you should be allowed in the scouts," he said.

Rod Henkles, the board chairman of the Cradle of Liberty Council, the Philadelphia-area scout organization, said in a statement that whatever people's feelings on the decision, "we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in scouting."

Across the country, however, some religious groups expressed dismay with the vote to allow any gay scouts, predicting mass defections and fractured relations within the organizations.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined in, saying he was "greatly disappointed."

But locally, many scout members expressed little issue with the chance to allow gay youths to join the scouts.

And for those who feel it's an issue, activist Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and a columnist for Philly.com, has some blunt advice.

"It's time to join this century," he said.


Contact Chris Palmer, 609-217-8305, cpalmer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter, @cs_palmer

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