The Boy Scouts Votes to End its Ban on Gay Scout Leaders!
After years of mounting pressure, the Boy Scouts of America has voted to end its ban on gay scout leaders–but the Mormon church has now threatened to pull its support despite the Scouts making concessions for religious troops.
The Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board voted on Monday, July 27, to ratify a resolution that removes the association’s national ban on openly gay adult leaders as well as gay adult employees within its ranks. The resolution will be effective immediately after previously being recommended for ratification by the Executive Committee earlier in July.
The BSA’s national president, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, issued the following statement in which he characterized the policy change as necessary in order to avoid costly litigation as well as to reflect the social changes both outside and within the BSA:
As I said during our national annual meeting in May, due to the social, political, and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe the adult leadership policy could be sustained. Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering cost. The best way to allow the BSA to continue to focus on its mission and preserve its core values was to address the issue and set our own course, and that’s what we’ve done.
The policy change means that openly gay boy scouts can no longer be prevented from taking up leadership roles solely based on their sexual orientation. It will also allow BSA offices to take on openly gay staff. However, the change also allows church-backed troops to refuse to employ gay scout leaders or staff in accordance with their religious principles. This was seen as a necessary compromise to ensure that religiously backed troops, which make up a substantial number of troops in the U.S., still feel welcome in the organization. It also reflects the same policy as the Girl Scouts who allow local troops to choose their own staff while maintaining an official policy of nondiscrimination.
Despite this, and to the surprise of many both within and outside the organization, the Church of Latter Day Saints has reportedly said it is unhappy in the extreme with this change. It had previously indicated that a concession to local troops would satisfy its concerns, but now church leaders appear concerned, though precisely what has precipitated this change in stance is unclear.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”
Many scouting leaders said they had not expected the Mormon Church’s sharp response and threat to leave.
“My assumption was that the concept voted on today had been fully vetted so as to avoid any unnecessary surprises,” said Jay Lenrow, a longtime volunteer scout leader in Baltimore who is on the executive committee of the Scouts’ northeast region and serves on the organization’s national religious relationships committee.
There is also speculation that certain Catholic church leaders are unhappy with the decision and may pull their support, though at the moment no church has released an official notice of intent to uncouple from the BSA.
The policy change has however had some immediate effects. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has announced he has dismissed a discrimination complaint against the BSA filed earlier this year by a gay scout leader who, while having the backing of his local troop, was threatened with expulsion by the BSA leadership.
However, not all gay former scouts are happy with this change. James Dale, 44, who sued after the BSA kicked him out for being openly gay and who lost his suit in 2000, is quoted as saying: “This is not a bold measure. A bold measure would be ending discrimination. I think they’re just hoping to put the issue behind them for once and for all. But this is not the end. Either you discriminate or you don’t. What does that mean for a kid in one of those troops that allow discrimination? It says to him that when he gets older, he will not be good enough anymore.”
Nevertheless, others have praised what they see as an imperfect but significant step in the right direction. “This vote marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Boy Scouts of America,” said Zach Wahls, Executive Director of Scouts for Equality which has led the charge against the BSA’s various anti-gay bans. “Tens of thousands of people came together because they wanted to build a better future for the Boy Scouts of America, and that future starts today. … While we still have some reservations about individual units discriminating against gay adults, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of Scouting.”
We’ll have to wait to see what fallout there is from this policy change, but this remains a significant step forward for the BSA, and one that could not have been achieved without the thousands of people like Care2 members who petitioned the BSA, so congratulations to all who were involved in making this change a reality, and here’s to a more inclusive future for the Scouts.
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