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Boy Scouts of America announces that it will allow transgender youth in boys-only program

FILE - The Boy Scouts of America says it will allow transgender youth in boys-only program.
FILE - The Boy Scouts of America says it will allow transgender youth in boys-only program.
Eric Gay, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Boy Scouts of America said Monday it will begin accepting transgender boys in its boys-only programs, which is a move away from its long-time practice of determining eligibility by gender as stated on a birth certificate.

In and around Utah, many wonder how that policy change will affect the Boy Scouts’ relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BSA’s first sponsoring unit with more than a century’s history as well as its largest chartering sponsor.

In July 2015, the LDS Church took a deliberate, month-long pause to look at its affiliation with Scouting programs when the BSA’s National Executive Board voted 45-12 to end the organization’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders.

The LDS Church had no comment Monday night on the announced allowance of transgender boys to participate.

Mark Griffin, scout executive over Utah's Great Salt Lake Council, said he learned of the news Monday evening on a conference call. Griffin didn't expect a decision to come Monday, but he said national BSA leaders have been in communication with regional executives about the possibility of a policy change.

"We had a conference call ... over a week ago where we talked about what the issues are," he said. "I think they did a good job of letting us know about the process. ... We knew it was being discussed."

Griffin said The Associated Press found out about the final decision before some regional leaders.

Griffin said he needed more time to examine the policy before commenting further. He said no transgender boys have requested to join scout troops in the Salt Lake City Council since he took his position there early last year.

Stan Lockhart, president of BSA’s Utah National Parks Council, said he was not made aware of the announcement ahead of time and was not familiar with the details of the new policy. The Orem-based Utah National Parks Council is the nation’s largest Boy Scout Council, with nearly 80,000 boys in Utah south of Salt Lake and into parts of Arizona and Nevada, with nearly 99 percent of the participants LDS.

“I anticipate in the next 24 hours I will get a briefing,” said Lockhart, declining to comment further before receiving more information.

Allen Endicott, scout executive for BSA's Trapper Trails Council in Ogden, said in an email that Monday's decision is "as new to us as it is to everyone else."

Like Griffin, Endicott said he was aware beforehand that the issue was being discussed, but didn't find out about the final decision until Monday evening. He said in an email to the Deseret News that he doesn't believe the new decision contradicts Scouting's "core values."

"The BSA is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family, and this is an area that we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate to bring the benefits of Scouting to the greatest number of youth possible – all while remaining true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.

Endicott also said working closely with charter organizations in Boy Scouts would continue to be a priority.

"Religious partners will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs," he said. "As a council we will continue to work with families to find local Scouting units that are the best fit for their children."

The Boy Scouts of America released several different statements Monday on the policy change.

“Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identify indicated on the application,” said Boy Scouts of America communications director Effie Delimarkos in one emailed statement to a media outlet.

And spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch provided a statement on one of BSA’s web sites, saying the organization had considered a recent New Jersey case involving an 8-year-old boy being asked to leave a Scout group after parents and leaders found out he is transgender.

“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the statement said. “However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identify differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”

In 2013, the Boy Scouts ended its ban on the participation of openly gay youth in its programs and activities. And in July 2015, it ended a ban on openly gay adult leaders. However, BSA leaders then said church-sponsored units could continue to disallow openly gay leaders for religious reasons.

In a brief video statement on accompanying Monday's policy announcement, Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said nothing about church-sponsored Scouting units being given a similar flexibility regarding the registration and participation of transgender youth.

The Boy Scouts said the new enrollment policy goes into effect immediately.

Following BSA’s 2015 change in allowing gay leaders, the LDS Church issued a terse statement saying “the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”

The statement continued: “As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.”

At the time, more than 430,000 of the BSA’s roughly 2.6 million Boy Scouts belonged to units sponsored by the LDS Church, making it by far the largest charter in the country.

A month later, in August 2015 a statement coming from its Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the LDS Church announced it would continue to charter Scouting units, after BSA leaders assured the church it would be able to appoint Scout leaders based on the faith’s values.

“In the resolution adopted on July 27, 2015, and in subsequent verbal assurances to us, BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values ‘in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program,’ the statement read.

“At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify church doctrine, values and standards. With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.”

The LDS Church was the first organization to formally sponsor Scouting troops in the United States. The Boy Scouts of America issued an official charter in 1913 authorizing the church to use the Scouting program for boys in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Besides accepting gay Scouts in its troops, the LDS Church allows Latter-day Saints who are gay to serve in church assignments such as Scout leadership as they live the faith’s standards, which proscribe same-sex marriage or involvement in same-sex relations. Non-LDS volunteers with the same values and standards can serve in Scout leadership positions.

Scouting and church responsibilities for LDS young men are intertwined. The church’s Duty to God program incorporates practices to help young men learn service and leadership.

The faith’s ties to Scouting extend to LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who holds BSA’s highest honors. He received the Silver Beaver Award in 1971 for distinguished service at the council level, the Silver Buffalo Award in 1978 for distinguished national service, and the highest award in international Scouting, the Bronze Wolf, in 1993.