In February 1997, the Scout Association amended its Policy,
Organisation and Rules, to include an Equal Opportunities Statement. The
policy was developed over three years of discussions with appropriate
It covered race, gender, faith, class, disability, political belief and
The latter was picked up by the Pink Paper on 21 March 1997, which ran a
splash saying the association had decided to employ gay leaders. The
story was followed up by the Independent on Saturday and it hit the
front page of the Sunday Telegraph.
The association went into crisis mode. It was inundated with enquiries
from members and the media, many of whom thought the policy an open
invitation to paedophiles.
To handle huge media interest in the controversy and advise its 600,000
UK members on how to deal with the situation at a local level.
Events really kicked off on Sunday 23 March and all callers to Scout HQ
were redirected to John Fogg, the association’s PR officer.
Fogg ensured that the media had access to the association’s chief
executive Derek Twine as well as to other senior members.
They tried to clear up the misconceptions that journalists had and
explain that this was not a change of policy. Scout regulations had
never banned homosexuals from working with the association.
Twine, who appeared on BBC News on the Sunday, highlighted other aspects
of the Equal Opportunities Statement, such as race. He also said that
the modern Scout movement, in line with Baden-Powell’s original
principals, was not the place for prejudice or unfounded
Reassurances were made throughout the week, to members and the media,
that stringent vetting procedures were still in place. The policy did
not mean automatic acceptance and volunteers would have to be ’fit and
proper persons’ to look after young people.
The association received 180 letters from its members, for and against
the policy. On the Sunday and Monday, Twine conducted over 60 local
radio interviews and six major TV interviews, including Sky News.
While the quality press published reasoned arguments, the tabloids were
predictably more homophobic. Most worrying were disclaimers from the
Baden-Powell family and threats of resignations. The Mirror on 24 March
quoted Northants county commissioner Brian Mutlow as saying that he was
reconsidering his position. In fact to date, only one county
commissioner - David Chapman from Oxfordshire - has resigned over the
The media found the heady combination of little boys, gays and summer
camps too tempting to resist. Other equal opportunities issues were
glossed over and sexual status arguments were restricted to males -
although 45 per cent of troop leaders are female.
While Fogg and his colleagues got their point across in the broadcast
media, this did not appear to extend to grass roots. Most national and
regional newspapers managed to dig up Scout members who had serious
objections or prejudices.
However, as media interest in the subject nose-dived by the end of the
week, Fogg is confident that a more informed view of modern Scouting was
getting through to members and media alike.
Client: Scout Association
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Managing crisis surrounding the introduction of an Equal
Timescale: 22 - 29 March 1997