FARMINGTON — Local reaction to a possible lifting of the Boy Scouts of America's decades-long national membership ban on gay members and leaders has been mixed.

The Boy Scouts of America, one of the largest youth organizations in the country, will announce Wednesday whether it will repeal the ban at the close of its national executive board meeting in Irving, Texas, where its headquarters are located.

The proposed change would leave room for a local troop, pack or council to decide whether to adopt any reversal to the controversial sexual-orientation policy.

"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue," said Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Boy Scouts, in a statement. "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with the organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs."

Calls to the local Anasazi district offices of the Boy Scouts were referred to Chris Shelby, director of the organization's Great Northwest Council, which oversees 500 packs and upwards of 9,100 scouts in the North-Central region of New Mexico.

"We have been hearing from both sides of the issue - parents, scouting leaders - from those in favor of the change and those who are opposed," Shelby said. "Our reaction is to wait and see till the announcement is made.



Recent changes in the country, from the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military to legalization of same-sex marriage in nine states have certainly had an effect on the national organization, Shelby said.

"Scouting tries to stay relevant with the times," he said.

President Barack Obama signaled unwavering support for changing the policy in a CBS interview with Scott Pelly on Sunday.

"Gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life," Obama said.

Marsha Sterling-Penn, director of student activities at San Juan College, supported the president's emphasis on an inclusive policy.

"As an institution, we support any policy that opens access to any person regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religious belief, or socio-economic status," Sterling-Penn said. "Any group that excludes another for any reason should take a hard look at their own policies."

Sterling-Penn also serves on the advisory board for the school's Safe Zone Ally program, which promotes tolerance and diversity for its students including those who are gay and lesbian.

"Every now and then the Boy and Girl Scouts come to our campus to help, most recently with the luminarias event last fall," she said. "Despite our issue with this particular policy, we don't want to exclude them or anyone."

But not all local leaders feel the same.

John Morgan, lead pastor at Pinon Hills Community Church, believes the change in policy is objectionable on moral grounds.

"I believe the Boy Scouts should hold the line on their tradition because the broader statement is not discrimination against gays but discrimination in favor of sexual morality within the sacred bonds of marriage," Morgan said. "That would be a statement for morality, marriage and family. These three promote cultural blessings of all kinds from prosperity to lower crime."

Buzz Esmiol, a volunteer scoutmaster for over 30 years who lives in Farmington, decried the proposed change and wrote the Boy Scouts' chief executive to express his concerns.

"Every two years, the scouts require us to take protection training to help spot and prevent sexual abuse, but reversing this policy just opens the door for sexual predators to take advantage of impressionable young boys, which has been documented to damage them irreparably for life," Esmiol, said.

Last year, 14,500 pages of confidential Boy Scout files detailing decades of sexual abuse, dating back to 1959, were posted online. They contained both details on proven molesters within the organization as well as unsubstantiated allegations.

"The scouts do rigorous screenings of all applicants, but people lie and that's the trouble," he said. "You can't tell a predatory homosexual from a moral one, and you can't risk destroying a life."

According to the American Psychological Association, "homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are." And the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute states that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends.

Linda Mickey, director of San Juan United Way, which counts the Boy Scouts as a community partner, sees both sides.

"United Way recognizes the rights and responsibilities of funded organizations to self-determine their scope of program and constituents served," Mickey said. "Our volunteers are always interested to discuss the changes made by organizations expanding geographic reach or the audiences that are served."