CAMPAIGNS: Scouting around the gay issue - Crisis Management

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 senior members.

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

senior members.



It covered race, gender, faith, class, disability, political belief and

sexual status.



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.



Objectives



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.



Tactics



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

discrimination.



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.



Results



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

policy.



Verdict



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

Opportunities statement

Timescale: 22 - 29 March 1997

Cost: Undisclosed



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