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Scout leader calls for unity as gay membership debate grows

By Joe Beck

A local leader of the Boy Scouts of America issued a call on Wednesday for those involved in the organization to set aside any differences they may have over linking sexual orientation to membership and concentrate instead on their common goals.

Stuart Williams, Scout Executive and CEO of the Shenandoah Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, made his comments in a news release after the BSA's national organization decided to postpone a decision on whether openly gay children should be allowed to join.

"America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation's children," Williams said in a written statement that incorporated the decision made by the BSA's National Executive Council.

The council cited "the complexity of this issue" in explaining that the organization "needs more time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy."

In his own commentary, Williams said, "We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth.

"Going forward, I'm asking all of you in our Scouting family to work with us and to stay focused on that which unites us, reaching and serving young people to help them grow into good, strong citizens."

The BSA has been under pressure from some members, their parents and major donors to drop its ban on gay members. But others, led by several religious organizations, have fought to keep the ban intact.

Williams insisted in his statement that his organization has no interest in advocating for either opinion. He also repeated comments from the Scouts' chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, who told the Associated Press that no single policy can encompass all viewpoints within Scouting.

"Sexual orientation is one the most complex and divisive issues in society today," Williams wrote. "The BSA does not have an agenda on the matter and discussing this issue is not the role of Scouting or the focus of the organization. However, the BSA has become one of the focal points in society's ongoing debate on the issue."

In an interview Thursday, Williams said he has heard from both sides as debate within Scouting's national leadership drew increasing media attention in recent weeks.

"We have had members give us feedback on both sides, and they asked us to pass it along to the national office," Williams said.

Asked if the Shenandoah Council planned to take a stand on the issue before members of the national council act on the issue at a meeting in May, Williams replied, "Absolutely not."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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