By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - Boy Scouts of America board members will meet this week to debate ending a controversial national ban on gay membership, prompting groups both for and against the move to converge on its Texas headquarters for demonstrations.
The national executive board, which lists more than 70 members, is expected to vote on Wednesday, the last day of a three-day meeting, on whether to lift the ban they had reaffirmed just last year amid criticism from gay rights groups and gay former Scouts and Scout leaders.
The Boy Scouts has not responded to inquiries about the private meeting, but activists for and against lifting the ban said they expected a vote on Wednesday.
The organization said on January 28 that it was considering removing the national restriction based on sexual orientation and leaving the decision to local chapters. It said it would not dictate a position to units, members or to parents.
Gay rights activists have said lifting the national ban, but allowing local units to maintain a ban, would not go far enough.
The board meeting comes as the century-old youth organization that prides itself on teaching boys life skills such as camping and leadership, faces membership declines and a donations boycott by some corporations over its anti-gay policy.
Youth membership in the Boy Scouts has dropped 21 percent since 2000 to nearly 2.7 million. Adult leader membership has fallen 14 percent to just over 1 million, and the number of units has declined 12.6 percent to 108,971.
Activists have pressed corporations, including Merck and UPS, as well as the Intel Foundation to withhold contributions to the Boy Scouts while the ban stands.
The Boy Scouts has also faced criticism for keeping from public view files covering decades of reports of child sex abuse in the organization. It released thousands of pages of files covering 1965 to 1985 in October under a court order.
The drive to lift the ban gained a powerful ally on Sunday in President Barack Obama. In an interview with CBS, anchor Scott Pelley asked the president if he believed scouting should be open to gays, Obama said: "Yes."
"My attitude is ... that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life," said Obama, who last year gave his backing to the right to same sex couples to marry.
"The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to, you know, opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives, and I think that nobody should be barred (from) that."
But Texas Governor Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout, told reporters on Saturday he did not see a reason for the Boy Scouts to change its longstanding policy, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Parents are also split on the proposal. Pam Bakowski, the mother of an Eagle Scout and former den leader and Cub master who lives in the Dallas area, said the Boy Scouts were about teaching life skills and leadership.
"I think the ban is ridiculous and needs to be lifted," Bakowski said.
The mother of an Eagle Scout, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Denise, said she opposed lifting the ban.
"The current policy has worked fine for more than 100 years so there is no reason to change it," she said. "If my son had been in a troop with a gay leader, I would have taken him out." Continued...