Magazine article Insight on the News

Boy Scouts Grow to Record Enrollment

Magazine article Insight on the News

Boy Scouts Grow to Record Enrollment

Article excerpt

Although dozens of corporations, foundations and governments have ended support for the organization, others have replaced them, and membership continues to increase despite protests.

Gay activists have battled publicly with the Boy Scouts of America for nearly two decades over the Scouts' ban on homosexual leaders, and membership in the Scouts has climbed as the conflict has intensified.

"During the last three years, we've grown by 7 percent," says Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts, which finished last year with 6.2 million members -- 5 million youths and 1.2 million adults. "The net result is that we're approaching record-high membership." The last time the Boy Scouts had nearly 5 million youth members was back in the early 1970s, when rolls reached about 4.6 million.

Membership growth in the Boy Scouts has been particularly strong in the heavily homosexual San Francisco area. "Our membership went up 13.7 percent last year and 14 percent the year before that, for a 28 percent rise in just two years" says Steve Barnes, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which includes more than 46,300 juveniles. "We're the fastest-growing metro council in America"

Growth in scouting comes despite protests by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund and other gay-rights groups urging children and parents to turn to other youth groups that "do not discriminate" on the basis of sexual orientation -- the Boys and Girls Clubs, the National 4-H Council, the Campfire Boys and Girls, among others. Scout leaders point to the enduring value of the program for children for its continued success. "We're not a recreation program" says Shields. "Our mission is to help people's character grow and to make ethical decisions." The Boy Scouts does not expect everyone to agree with its values and beliefs, adds Shields, but the organization feels strongly that parents want their children exposed to the "kinds of things the Boy Scouts are teaching."

Homosexual critics of the Boy Scouts have had some success in persuading several dozen corporations, charities, school systems and municipal governments to end their support for the Boy Scouts or consider ending it, however. "Over the past two decades, some people have disagreed with the Boy Scouts on this issue and stopped their funding" admits Shields. "Levi Strauss & Company stopped back in 1992. But there have always been other groups to replace those that withdrew their support."

Lambda Legal Defense Fund keeps a list on its Web site of groups and government entities it says have ended or are considering ending financial support or property arrangements with the Boy Scouts. The list includes eight United Way chapters that already have defunded the Boy Scouts: three in California (San Francisco, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz) and others in New Haven, Conn., Portland, Maine; Somerset County, N.J.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and southeastern New England. Lambda also identifies four religious organizations -- the United Methodists, the Episcopalians, Reform Jews and Unitarians -- it says have passed resolutions condemning the Scouts' policy.

The pro-homosexual legal group also cites various public-school systems (such as in San Francisco and Oakland) and municipal governments (such as Chicago) that have discontinued former arrangements they had with the Boy Scouts. Chicago ended its sponsorship of 28 different Explorers groups after being named in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1996. …

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