Scouts on Maui let gays join, report no problems

The Maui County Boys Scouts of America is accepting openly gay youths within its ranks, following the decision by the national board to lift the ban starting last week.

Maui Boy Scouts Executive Robert Nakagawa said that the decision was not “much of an obstacle” for the countywide council, and that he has not received any phone calls from disgruntled members in the days since the announcement.

“Here on Maui we had some volunteers that felt one way and some that felt another way, but I don’t know if anyone felt that strongly about it and were dropping out of the ranks because of it,” Nakagawa said. “I don’t know, maybe being in Hawaii we’re more tolerant.”

The controversy surrounding the ban on gay Scouts drew national headlines in May, when the national board determined that “no youth may be denied membership . . . on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

The 103-year-old organization has maintained its ban on gay adult leaders, though, which the Maui group is following, Nakagawa said.

“Its only impacts are to the youths that they serve,” he said of the change. “The requirements and standards for a Scout – none of that really changes.”

Dr. Bobby Baker, a longtime board member and former council president, said that he was “pleased with the decision” by the national board and that it represented what “Hawaii is all about.”

“Diversity and allowing people to have their own freedoms and views,” Baker said. “This is definitely the time for this to occur and I only see it as a positive thing. It will allow more boys the opportunity to participate in Scouting without feeling they are different and that’s the way I always wanted to run my troop.”

Baker, the father of two sons who went on to become Eagle Scouts, was a scoutmaster for five years in Kula and said he never inquired about a member’s sexual orientation. He said he “really didn’t feel it was any of (his) business” and that there has always been a level of privacy between members.

“The purpose of the Boy Scouts is to offer the community a program that can allow the boys to become leaders and allow them to have fun and enjoy a whole different avenue besides going to school and so forth,” he said. “It still amazes me today that (Scouts) can apply some of the skills (they learned) to their day-to-day lives.”

More than 1,000 youths and about 500 leaders participate in Boys Scouts in Maui County, Nakagawa said. When he was asked if there would be any policies governing group showers that involved homosexual members, he said the majority of Camp Maluhia’s toilets and showers are already single-person stalls.

Scouting officials installed two new restrooms last year that included the private stalls, and they plan to begin renovations on one of their older shower house restrooms in late July, Nakagawa said.

Neither Baker nor Nakagawa have received word from church leaders on Maui – the Scouts’ biggest sponsors and supporters – but both agreed that lifting the gay ban was not as polarizing as it is in Mainland states.

“It’s our responsibility to offer this program to as many boys as possible because it really changes their lives,” Baker said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at