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Boys come in every size, shape, color, and yes, sexual orientation.

The Boy Scouts of America missed an opportunity to recognize that and welcome every boy into the club’s fold.

The national leadership made a misstep last week in reaffirming its policy of excluding gays.

No one is disputing that private clubs can pick and choose their policies, guidelines and practices. But the Boy Scouts aren’t just any club. They are an American institution that has a historic role in stressing values, teaching life skills and providing role models. Although the club is more than 100 years old, that doesn’t mean it can’t evolve with the times. Troops today are ethnically diverse; that wasn’t the case 50 years ago.

And today our youth are subject to the pressures of not belonging. Bullying has received widespread attention in recent years, especially cases where gay youths have taken their own lives.

Helping boys of today develop into men of integrity of tomorrow means more than camping and learning how to tie knots. The Boy Scouts know that. Many activities are tackled as a group to teach team-building and citizenship. Teaching tolerance, acceptance and getting along with people different than you are just as important. That’s not some left-wing liberal philosophy. That’s reality. Schools, colleges and work places are filled with a variety of people. Learning those acceptance skills early on make kids more well-rounded adults.

The Boy Scouts can operate under a don’t-ask-don’t-tell system, but it’s a disingenuous way of going about running an operation. Being a Scout or Scout leader shouldn’t mean you have to pretend you’re someone who you’re not if you abide by the club’s principles of being trustworthy and ethical. The Girl Scouts recognize this and include both gay and straight members and leaders.

The Boy Scouts’ exclusion policy is legal, but that doesn’t make it culturally palatable. There are parents who don’t sign their sons up for Scouts because of its anti-gay stance. Declining membership numbers could drop more as a result of last week’s announcement and negative attention.

Luckily, regional Scout councils are not tied to the national policy. Minnesota’s Northern Star Council said it will continue to follow its 12-year-old “inclusive leadership selection” practice that welcomes homosexuals in its troops. The local Twin Valley Council, which serves 15 southern Minnesota counties, should follow in the Northern Star Council’s footsteps and become inclusive.

The stereotypical act of a Boy Scout helping an elderly woman across the street doesn’t involve him asking what her sexual orientation is before helping.

That’s because it doesn’t matter.

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