OTTAWA, ILLINOIS - For years, Boy Scouts from across the United States made an annual pilgrimage to Ottawa, Illinois, which proudly promotes itself as the “Home of the Founder” of the Boy Scouts of America, William Dickson Boyce.
“He lived here during the formative years of the Boy Scouts, and he is buried here,” said Mollie Perrot, executive director of the Ottawa Historical and Scouting Heritage Museum, where the history of the Scouting movement worldwide is on display.
Perrot knows about change: She was once a Boy Scout leader at a time when women were just being accepted into the organization.
“And it was still pretty much a men's club," she said. "But there are a lot of women leaders today, and that’s changed. Initially, it was 'getting over the humps,' you might say.”
Perrot believes the Boy Scouts will also get over the humps expected following the organization's decision to accept gay leaders.
"They may experience the same thing the women experienced, ostensibly, some little bit of ostracism, and then acceptance," she said.
Matt Skelly, a former Scout leader, said he thought the organization would "move beyond the political and social side of it, and come back to what Scouting is all about, and that’s the young men and women it serves — to make them better as citizens of our country and the world.”
The decision on adult gay leaders, in Skelly’s view, was inevitable. Involved with Boy Scouts since he was 7 years old, he said Scouting’s focus has never been, and never should be, on its leaders' sexual orientation.
“Ideally, the lifestyles of the leaders should not come into play, but that’s an ideal world,” he said.
Perrot said she thought the changes wouldn't end there.
“Boy Scouts does not embrace atheists either, and there’s pressure from externals" on the subject, she said. "I think it’s going to force a lot of changes in that regard.”
Boyce died in 1929. Perrot said she couldn't speak for how Boyce would feel about the decision on gays, but she has spoken to his family.
“Part of his family has said that he would accept, and I have contact with another family member who said he would not,” she said.
But whether Boyce would accept it or not, it is now the official policy of the Boy Scouts of America.