In a meeting this past Friday, the Boy Scouts of America’s executive committee voted unanimously to lift the ban that has prevented gay and bisexual adults from being troop leaders. The vote will face the national executive board on July 27th and will be made part of the Scout’s national policy if approved.
While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.
BSA President Dr. Robert Gates had initially said he would not be visiting the topic of gay troop leaders during his term as the organization’s president. However, this past May at the BSA’s annual business meeting, he explained why he now thinks differently, saying that the existing ban is “unsustainable”:
However, events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy, from some councils like the Greater New York Council, the Denver Area Council, and others in open defiance of the policy, to more and more councils taking a position 13 in their mission statements and public documents contrary to national policy.
Dr. Gates also cited current events as part of his reasoning, reminding the organization of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, as well as the discrimination cases in Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year.
While the move is being widely praised and certainly historic, it has also received some criticism because it still leaves room for discrimination at each charter’s discretion, according to a statement released Monday. The statement reads, in part, “This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”
However, the vote is still a huge step in the right direction after such a long period of mandatory discrimination. A group that has been fighting the ban, Scouts for Equality, considered the news a victory, according to the organization’s Executive Director Zach Wahls, who is also an Eagle Scout:
For decades, the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay adults has stood as a towering example of explicit, institutional homophobia in one of America’s most important and recognizable civic organizations. While this policy change is not perfect — BSA’s religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate against gay adults — it is difficult to overstate the importance of today’s announcement.
Dr. Gates stated that he felt allowing charters to still ban gay leaders at their own discretion was the best choice strategically, saying, “I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”
However, it is worth noting that the Girl Scouts of America recently found themselves facing a similar choice. The Western Washington charter received a generous $100,000 donation with the condition that none of those proceeds benefit transgender scouts. The group returned the money, despite how helpful it would have been, and instead set up an Indiegogo fundraiser called “Girl Scouts is #ForEVERYGirl” with the goal of earning the $100,000 they gave back. To date they have more than tripled the original amount.
Although the ruling is not effective until voted upon by the national executive board, it would be “unprecedented” for the board to go against a unanimous vote by the committee, according to Wahls.