JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The fiercely debated decision and compromise to allow gay Boy Scouts among the membership but not Scout leaders has mixed reactions around the First Coast.
"I think it is a great first step," said Cindy Watson, executive director of the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network that she founded 18 years ago.
Her group supports gay teens and young adults. She is proud of the Boy Scouts for being willing to be inclusive of gay young people.
"I just know for young gay people there are not a lot of places they can go to for after school activities where they know they are going to be safe so they tend to be more isolated, so any time a big organization like the Boy Scouts says we want to be a place where all young people are accepted, I think that is a great step," said Watson.
Watson believes there are gays in the Scouts now, and with this decision they can be honest and not live in fear. She hopes they get to the point of allowing gay scout leaders because she believes there are wonderful gay adults who can be positive role models and help young people.
Last August we told you about Matthew Kerns of Jacksonville who sent his Eagle Scout medal back to the scouts to protest the ban on gays.
Now living in Savannah, he is happy with the decision to now allow gay members but said not allowing gay scout leaders sends a mixed message. He says this new policy goes along with scout values, to think outside the box and understand different viewpoints and different ways of living.
"I think by excluding gay Scouts that was sending the wrong message, so I am glad they are changing the policy and are really living the ideals Boy Scouts set out to start with when they were first founded over 100 years ago."
Some say it is a controversial decision that could lead to mass defections from the Boy Scouts and could cost the organization donors.
It means some scout packs and troops will be looking for another home as is the case in Orange Park.
Orange Park Baptist First Baptist Church has chartered Boy Scout troop 20 for 35 years, Cub Scout pack 20 for 13 years.
But, now pack 20 leader Jeff Gruenthal tells first coast news that the church has told him he needs to find another place to meet after August, due to this decision to allow gay members.
Church pastor David Tarkington was not available to talk to First Coast News, but in his blog on the church website Tarkington said the church cannot continue to be a charter organization with this new policy.
On May 7th Tarkington wrote, "for our church to continue to charter Troop and Pack 20 with a national BSA policy that clearly opposes our Biblical mores, would be hypocritical at best. While I truly hate this, I must stand on the word of God"
Gruenthal said he holds no ill will toward the church, they have been great hosts for years. He said they have the right to their opinion.
Meanwhile, Watson said she is hoping adult gay leaders will be a part of Scouts in the future. "I hope they get there, I really hope that as our community comes to realize that gay people are part of the very fabric of our society and are members of every group already, I hope they can get to a point where they can be inclusive of gay adults who would like to be supportive," said Watson.
First Coast News