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Ban on gay leaders lifted, Center on Halsted seeks Cub Scout pack

Just a few months after the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on openly gay adults serving as scout leaders, an LGBTQ community center on the North Side wants to host a Cub Scout pack.

The Boy Scouts’ national policy on group leaders changed in July to allow scout groups to choose their own adult leaders, regardless of their sexual orientation. Two years earlier, the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly gay youth.

Religious organizations with charters from the national organization can decide if they will allow gay adults to lead scouting groups, providing an exemption for churches whose teachings disagree with homosexuality.

But the Center on Halsted in Lake View has appealed to adults in the community to help form a completely inclusive Cub Scout pack, according to a spokesman. If the center receives a charter from the Boy Scouts of America, it would be the first LGBTQ community center in the country serving as host for a scout group.

“We recognize the Boy Scouts have had a rocky past, but given the changes in policy they have implemented, we are ready to offer this programming and offer it in a safe space,” said Center spokesman Peter Johnson.

Johnson said the Center has received a “great response” from people who want to be involved. They are still adding volunteers to lead the pack, which Johnson said could be anyone of any sexual orientation or gender identity — though they will need to demonstrate scouting experience.

Center officials will meet with a group of interested parents next Monday to formalize the paperwork requesting a charter from the Boy Scouts of America, according to Eric Hetland, an Eagle Scout and leader of the Chicago chapter of Scouts for Equality, who is involved with the pack’s creation.

Hetland said he and other people involved with the Center’s push for a Cub Scout pack have received positive feedback from the Boy Scouts of America.

A spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America said the organization was “not aware of any application being submitted” by the Center on Halsted.

“All requests for new chartered organizations require review and approval by the BSA,” the spokeswoman said.

While charter guidelines make no mention of LGBT organizations, the Boy Scouts of America declined to comment on whether places like the Center are precluded from having a troop or pack.

The Center hopes to see the Cub Scout pack, for boys in grades 1 through 5, up and running in 2016, Johnson said. A Girl Scout troop has been based at the Center for the last three years.

Mary Anderson helps lead the Scouts for Equality chapter in her Oak Park neighborhood, and she worked with Hetland to get the Center on Halsted initiative started.

“It really demonstrates the whole purpose of the Center on Halsted. The purpose is to be inclusive of all: gay, straight, transgender,” Anderson said.

When Anderson’s son Jordan joined the Cub Scouts in 2013, the ban on openly gay members and troop leaders was in place.

“I was not allowed to be a den mother,” Anderson said. “It sent a message to my son that his family was not worth as much as other families in Boy Scouts.”

Anderson, who identifies as a lesbian, said she told Jordan he could quit.

“My son said, ‘If we quit who is going to change? If we don’t change the Boy Scouts, who will?’ ” Anderson said.