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How Bellevue’s driving the Boy Scouts’ gay policy

Wayne Perry, Boy Scouts of America National President Credit: Photo: Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America decided today to put off voting on a proposal to end a longstanding ban on gay members and leaders. A vote may come in May, when the national board meets next. Whatever eventually happens, there'll be plenty of criticism to go around.

(Disclosure: I am an Eagle Scout, and gay, and have written for Crosscut before on the topic.)

Further, however the board eventually votes — or doesn't vote — the person leading the discussion will have deep Seattle-area ties: Wayne Perry, national BSA president.

Baseball fans may know Perry as part of the ownership group that purchased the Mariners. He's a University of Washington alumnus and member of the Washington State Bar. Having spent a successful career in telecommunications, he now runs private equity firm Shotgun Creek Investments, based in Bellevue.

Perry, like all members of the BSA's national board, is a volunteer. He helps set policy that the BSA's employees and many volunteers carry out. Right now, one such policy is to exclude openly gay members and leaders (as the BSA says, "avowed homosexuals"). That policy could change to give deference to the choices of the churches and civic groups that sponsor units (Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs, Venture crews) to allow or not allow gay members.

If the policy changes, it would be particularly interesting under Perry's presidency.

"I believe that homosexuality is morally wrong," he said last Friday, during a conference call to local BSA council leaders. Perry, a Mormon, spent the call explaining how the proposed policy change came about, but didn't take questions from council leaders or media.

The call represents the most public communication by the national BSA leading up to today's meeting. Requests for interviews or more information haven't been fulfilled.

Perry discussed several factors driving the proposed policy change, the most prominent of which is religion.

Churches make up close to 70 percent of organizations that sponsor BSA units. While many, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which accounts for nearly a third of units), actively seek to uphold the gay ban, others don't. That's one big part of the discussion, according to Perry.

On the conference call, Perry also pointed to larger societal factors driving the discussion, including the military ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and three states, including Washington, having voted to allow same-sex marriage. He noted that both President Obama and Mitt Romney, his fellow Mormon and a former national BSA executive board member, support ending the gay ban.

All these factors, Perry said, led to "a great deal of inquiry from our scouting family" about ending the ban.

They also, apparently led to today's decision to postpone the vote. It appears those who wanted the executive board to delay, which included the Mormon-dominated Great Salt Lake Council, got what they wanted.

Perry ended the conference call to council leaders last week by assuring them the board is made up of people committed to "the scouting movement."

"The U.S. needs the Boy Scouts now more than ever in its history," he said. That history may include a vote down the road to end a national ban on gays. Or it may not.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Perry supported the Boy Scouts ban on gay scouts. 


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