Members of the Pacific Skyline Council met at the Boy Scout offices at Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto to discuss whether to support a change to allow openly gay members or to continue the status quo.
The approximately 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America national council will vote on a resolution in May. A planned February vote was postponed to gauge sentiment from councils around the country, leaders said in a statement.
Pacific Skyline's Stanford district represents 2,300 Scouts in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Citing a secrecy promise, few members spoke publicly Monday evening. But some said the meeting was broadly supportive of including gays and lesbians.
Many local leaders and parents said it is increasingly difficult to reconcile the national organization's stance with their own views. And organizations such as the Rotary Club said they are considering pulling their sponsorship of local troops if the policy remains.
Deirdre Moore, the mother of an 8-year-old Scout, attended the Monday meeting and said she strongly supports the change.
"The meeting went very well. Everybody was in tune with what I feel. There were a lot of very positive sentiments that sent a clear message that everyone was in favor of change. I don't think I heard anyone come out against it. We all think it's such a shame. ... Our kids are used to non-discrimination in every other area of their lives. Just get with the program," she said.
Frank Tucker, a local troop leader, agreed.
"I wish the council would make the decision and be done with it so we can all do Scouting," he said, stressing he could only speak for himself and not for the organization.
But getting consensus on a national policy is complex, said one local adult troop leader and Eagle Scout who asked to remain unnamed.
"This conversation is going on all over the country, and in every room they all think they have the solution. But on a national level they have to consolidate those opinions, and they will be different throughout the country. There are (even) different opinions in similar regions," he said.
Locally, those who oppose the national organization's potential policy change have remained quiet. No leaders or chartering organizations contacted by the Weekly on Wednesday responded indicating they want the current policy to continue.
"I suspect there are people who support it based on religious views," one leader said.
For most of its history, the national organization allowed individual troops to define their own rules on participants and leaders. But in recent decades, that changed, troop leaders said. Some longtime members and chartering organizations support a return to troop rule.
"It is simply time to make a change to allow Scouting to continue to flourish and serve all our youth. While I would like to see Scouting adopt a universal non-discrimination policy, if that is a bridge too far for now, I support the proposal to allow chartering organizations freedom to adopt their own membership rules," Rod Sinks, Scoutmaster for Troop 37 in Los Altos and a Cupertino City Council member wrote in an email to the national executive board on Jan. 30.
"They are my individual views, which have not been endorsed by my troop," he said in an email to the Weekly on Thursday. But he added that he attended a Pacific Skyline Council meeting Wednesday in Foster City, and every speaker favored the policy change.
Doug Moran, an Eagle Scout since the 1960s, said in an email that it's unclear whether the troops or the national organization have the ultimate authority at this point.
Moran is also a representative of the Barron Park Association neighborhood group, which has chartered Troop 52. While he said his comments do not represent the association, he noted that the group has put off discussion about ending its decades-long chartership of Troop 52 until after the national Scouts' May vote.
Troop 52 has partnered with the neighborhood association in emergency preparedness, staffing at fairs and booths, and helping with May Fete and other events. In the past, the association contributed funds for materials for Scout projects that benefited the neighborhood, he said.
But the Boy Scouts' policy created a storm of discussion on the Barron Park Association's email lists starting last August, after a troop leader invited the community to become involved in Troop 52 events. Many residents questioned whether the association should sponsor a Boy Scout troop given the national policy. And some people said they would not renew their association membership as long as Barron Park Association remained a chartering organization.
In response to neighborhood concerns, the association's board of directors sent an email to the national Boy Scout leadership in early February: "We believe that discrimination in Boy Scouts of America hurts communities, both in excluding boys and in proclaiming that such exclusion is justified. We reject both, as do a great many parents in our community," they wrote.
Leaders of other organizations said their groups might drop longstanding charters. The Rotary Club of Los Altos is also waiting for the May vote before it makes a determination, John Sylvester, its president said. He wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts national executive board last September, saying the Scouts' policy violates the Rotary's four-way test, which includes fairness, good will and building friendships, and being beneficial to all concerned.
Jennifer Hess, the Scouts leader whose invitation set off the Barron Park controversy, said losing the charter means the troop can't belong to the Boy Scouts until they find another sponsor, which is complex, she said.
Charter organizations sign a contract with the troop to provide a meeting place, sometimes offer financial aid, and train a representative. Each charter is responsible for approving and signing off every application for adult leadership and every den leader, which provides another layer of protection against criminal or amoral conduct, she said.
Hess leads a Pack of of 50 boys and has sons in Cub Scout Den 52 and Boy Scout Troop 52. She is also a member of the Barron Park Association. She plans to look for another chartering group because she doesn't want to put the neighborhood association in an awkward position, she said.
The Scouts provide many community services, she said. Her oldest son's troop has built structures for schools, run church picnics and held pancake breakfasts.
And girls are welcome to take part in all troop activities, she said.
As a mother, Hess said she feels the national organization's stance is hypocritical in terms of its stated goals.
"I personally struggle with the policy. We go through training about how to talk about bullying and to make sure there is no secret society. ... We are training leaders to lead in a way that is inclusive of everyone," she said.