Scouts get prepared for more gay recruits

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BE PREPARED - for equality. In a landmark decision, the Scouts are looking to welcome more gay recruits and leaders.

Britain's best-known youth organisation is keen to dispel the myth that homosexuals cannot join the organisation and as part of this it has produced a document entitled 'It's OK to be gay and a Scout!'

The leader of the Scout Association has also filmed a video message stating that homophobic bullying will not be tolerated.

In a further repudiation of the organisation's austere, militaristic origins members and leaders have also been granted permission to attend gay pride parades in uniform.

The association, which represents around 500,000 members - including more than 30,000 Scots - is keen to show it has adapted to the realities of 21st-century life and the 2010 Equalities Act.

Spokesman Simon Carter said: "There was an assumption that being gay meant you couldn't be part of the movement. That was never the case and we are keen to make it clear that we accept people of any particular orientation.

"We have had youth members and adults attend (gay] Pride events and plan to do so again this year. It shows that we are not just taking about it but are demonstrating our support publicly."

Wayne Bulpitt, the association's UK chief commissioner, is also keen to highlight Scouting's gay-friendly credentials.

He recently filmed a video offering support to an anti-bullying campaign led by gay rights charity Stonewall.

In the film, Bulpitt states: "Bullying is wrong on every level, not just for the person being bullied, but for the bully too. In Scouting we believe that all young people, irrespective of their sexuality, gender, race, creed or background, have an equal opportunity to develop and to be themselves."

The association, which ended its ban on female members in 1991, has also created a series of advisory documents on gay issues for members and adult leaders which counsels young people about informing others about their sexuality.

It states: "Coming out is a major decision in your life. You may decide to tell your family, a friend, your teacher or a Scout leader.

"There is nothing wrong with being gay and being a Scout and the person that you tell should be supportive and non judgemental to what you are telling them."

Leaders are advised to treat such conversations as confidential, but to have other adults "within hearing or sight", and to be prepared to pass on details for specialised support organisations.

A further document, 'Gay adults in Scouting', reassures prospective leaders and volunteers that they will not be turned away on the basis of their sexuality.

Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green leader, welcomed the move but urged the Scouts to go further and lift their ban on atheists and agnostics.Currently members must express a commitment to a religious faith.

The Glasgow MSP said: "This is a significant step towards reconciling the scouting movement with the modern world, and it's great to see the Scouting Association working with others to try and ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people feel welcomed and supported.

"The Scouts are a treasured national institution, but if they want to win their tolerance badge they should now welcome members of all faiths and none, just as they now welcome members irrespective of their sexuality."

However John Cormack of the Scottish Christian Party claimed the developments would alarm many parents. He said: "My reaction to this is one of dismay and I suspect many other people will also be deeply concerned. Sexual morality is an area where the parents should be taking the lead, not the Scouts.

"This is a huge step-change away from the Christian founding ethos of the Scout movement."