WASHINGTON - The Boy Scouts of America are starting the new year by officially welcoming openly gay youths into their ranks, but not everyone is pleased with the change.
For more than two decades, the iconic youth organisation known for its "be prepared" ethos has explicitly barred homosexuals, in contrast to the more LGBT-friendly Girl Scouts of the USA.
Last May, the Boy Scouts' national council voted 61 per cent to no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation -- although it retained a ban on gay and lesbian adult Scout leaders.
"We believe every child deserves the opportunity to be a part of the Scouting experience," said Deron Smith, the Boy Scouts' director of public relations, in an email to AFP.
"The new policy allows kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting to experience this life-changing programme while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of the Boy Scouts of America," he said.
Prepared to be among the first openly gay Eagle Scouts is Pascal Tessier, 17, from the Washington suburb of Kensington, Maryland who with his local troop had publicly campaigned for the Boy Scouts to change its policy.
"At the time, (I) couldn't tell them I'm openly gay. This is something I can do today," Tessier told Washington's WRC television.
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America claims more than 2.6 million members -- the majority (1.53 million) being Cub Scouts aged seven through 11 -- plus one million adults.
Welcoming openly gay youth follows a year in which the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriage -- now legal in 18 states, but outlawed in 32 others -- and a growing number of celebrities going public with their homosexuality.
It also coincides with an ongoing flap over Phil Robertson, star of the popular reality TV show "Duck Dynasty," after he branded homosexuality as "sinful" in a GQ magazine interview. He was briefly suspended from the programme.
But with 70 per cent of its partner organisations being Christian churches and faith groups, the Boy Scouts' new stance is not without its dissidents.