Local organizations try to create welcoming, nondenominational Boy Scout troops

The director of Restore Our Humanity says it is not his intention to create a “gay” Boy Scout troop, despite the fact that his organization was started primarily for LGBT-rights advocacy, and despite the fact that his effort to form a Scout troop follows on the heels of an announcement by the Boy Scouts of America that the BSA will no longer ban leaders who are gay.

Mark Lawrence says he is indeed in the middle of a process to get Restore Our Humanity approved as a chartering organization for the Boy Scouts, and that the impetus of the effort was indeed the change in the BSA’s leadership policy, which it announced last month.

But when asked if there was a danger that a Restore Our Humanity-sponsored Boy Scout troop might become known as the “gay” troop, Lawrence answered, “It’s kind of disappointing that that’s how the media has painted that … It’s funny that that’s how it’s being spun.”

Lawrence says his objective is simply to expand the opportunities for scouting in the Salt Lake area (and possibly, later, throughout Utah), especially if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pulls out of its association with the Boy Scouts, as it has signaled it is considering.

“It’s time for organizations like mine to step up and come forward,” Lawrence said.

In early August, Lawrence began working on an application to the BSA for a Boy Scout troop that would be sponsored by Restore Our Humanity. Only a few days before, the BSA announced it would no long prohibit gay people from being scout leaders.

So it would perhaps seem natural for people to make the leap that Lawrence was trying to create a troop specifically geared toward having gay scout leaders.

Lawrence admits there was a connection. “It’s the fact that we [Restore Our Humanity] are known as an LGBT-rights group; our primary focus up to this point has been with LGBT rights. So that’s why it made sense for us to do this now.”

Restore Our Humanity was formed several years ago to combat Amendment 3, Utah’s prohibition against same-sex marriage.

But Lawrence says his vision is for Restore Our Humanity to ease away from specifically LGBT issues, and to become an organization focused on more general humanitarian efforts.

As such, he sees Restore Our Humanity poised to fill some of the void in scouting in Utah, whether or not the LDS church severs its relationship with the BSA.

The LDS church, Lawrence says, currently sponsors about 97 percent of scout troops in Utah.

After the BSA changed is leadership policy, a statement from the church indicated that the church may be rethinking its position as a major chartering organization for the Boy Scouts.

“I have been told by several people that it’s been pretty obvious that the church has been planning to separate from Boy Scouts,” Lawrence said. “I’ve heard it’s been in the works for quite a while now. I think the LDS church should be applauded for what they have done for the Scouting program, but it’s time for the BSA to get back to its roots.”

And that’s where Lawrence sees an opening for Restore Our Humanity.

“Our objective is to make the Scout troop totally non-denominational. We will have chaplains, but we want to include all religions. What scouting is about is not any particular religious organization.”

And, he says, there are many young men who “don’t want to be part of a Scouting troop that is run by a religious institution.”

He says he’s even had interest from LDS families who, though faithful in their church, nevertheless want a Scouting experience for their children separate from their religion.

Lawrence said he had seen a good amount of interest expressed by both scouts and potential leaders.

“We have, I believe, nine scouts that are already signed up on our website, and that’s good considering we really haven’t got the word out yet,” Lawrence said on Aug. 10.

And of the several people who have shown interest in being a Scout leader with Restore Our Humanity, only one is actually gay, Lawrence said. Lawrence is continuing to seek people who might be interested in helping with a potential Scout troop.

“There is an application. There is training for them, which we will provide. They do not have to have been Scouts themselves,” he said.

He says he expects to face some obstacles in getting a troop approved.

“The Great Salt Lake Council has already turned down three applications,” he said. “The new ruling will open some doors, but it’s sure going to be an uphill battle. I think they’re feeling that we’re going to go in there and force them to do something they don’t want to do. We just want to expand scouting in Utah.”

Neither the Great Salt Lake Council nor the Boy Scouts of America would provide comment for this article.

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