PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year's Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications - ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year's Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.
"My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare," said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. "It's business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward."
The change comes more than a century after the group was founded in 1910. The controversial decision drew the support of Peter A'Hearn, who reached the highest rank in BSA, the Eagle scout. "I think it just means that you know, it's open," said A'Hearn. "They don't have to be in the closet, they don't have to be in hiding."
A'Hearn says three Eagle scouts he grew up with, have since come out as adults. The new policy marks major progress for the LGBT community and its advocates. "Each step that we take away the blocks of oppression and discrimination," said Dr. Jill Gover from the LGBT community center of the desert. "We make it easier for the next generation."
Not everyone is behind the movement. "I just felt like part of America died," said John Stemberger.
Stemberger is the chairman-of-the-board for Trail Life USA, a conservative alternative to the Boy Scouts of America. Stemberger and a handful of former leaders in BSA branched off once the national council voted for the membership change in May. Trail Life USA "unapologetically reflects a Christian worldview," according to the website. "We will continue to expose the dangers and risks," said Stemberger. "The very real dangers and the very real risks that have been presented by this membership policy.
Trying to anticipate potential friction, the BSA has distributed extensive explanations and question-and-answer documents related to the policy.
—Could a Scout march in uniform in a gay-pride parade? No, says the BSA. "Each youth member is free as an individual to express his or her thoughts or take action on political or social issues but must not use Scouting's official uniforms and insignia when doing so."
—How publicly active could a gay Scout be, in terms of gay-rights advocacy? The BSA's reply: "While a youth member may acknowledge his or her sexual preference, that acknowledgment may not reach the level of distraction, which may include advocacy, promotion, or the distribution of information of a sexual nature."
A frequently-asked-questions document anticipates that some objections might surface from parents — or Scouts themselves — in cases where a unit includes an openly gay boy.
Regarding shower and toilet facilities, the BSA says it is encouraging units to provide greater individual privacy, including moving away from the tradition of group showers.
"The adult leaders have the discretion to arrange private showering times and locations," the BSA says.
Sleeping arrangements also are addressed, with specific decisions left to unit leaders.
"If a Scout or parent of a Scout makes a request to not tent with another Scout, their wishes should be honored," says the BSA.
The biggest sponsor of Scout units — the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — commended the BSA for a "thoughtful, good-faith effort" to address a challenging issue, and said it would stay engaged in Scouting.
John Gailey of the Utah National Parks Council, the nation's largest council, said its youth membership had increased from 74,148 in December 2012 to 75,863 this month.
Like the Mormons, the Roman Catholic Church has generally accepted the new policy. Many parishes will continue to sponsor Scout units, though a few have considered cutting ties.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting posted a question-and-answer document on its website, delving into the intersection of Scouting policy and Catholic teaching.
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that individuals who disclose a same-sex attraction are to be treated with the same dignity due all human beings … and also teaches that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is always immoral," says the Q-and-A, concluding that the new BSA policy does not contradict Catholic teaching.