"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life," Obama said, noting that the Boy Scouts provides young people opportunities and leadership and that "nobody should be barred from that."
Boy Scouts to Lift Gay Ban?
Corporate pressure from companies such as Ernst & Young, AT&T and Merck & Co. certainly contributed to the Boy Scouts of America's apparent decision to end its ban on gay scouts and troop leaders, with a formal announcement expected as early as next week. The new policy would leave membership decisions up to the Boy Scouts' 290 local councils and 116,000 sponsors, which are comprised of religious and civic groups.
"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong," said Herndon Graddick, President of GLAAD, an advocacy group for LGBTs. "Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."
"Last year Scouting realized the policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations ... to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs," said Boy Scouts of America spokesperson Deron Smith. "It's important to note this policy would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs."
Change of Heart?
However, many news sources say the Boy Scouts' sudden reversal is less about conflicting missions—after all, the policy had been in place since before the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2000—and more about societal pressure to shift toward more inclusive practices.
The announcement comes just seven months after Boy Scouts of America was slammed nationally for reaffirming its anti-gay membership policy after nearly two years of examination, and just one month after Merck & Co ended its funding to the Boy Scouts.
In addition to continual chiding from the public, Boy Scouts of America evoked strong reactions from senior executives and other diversity leaders at top corporations—in particular, Ernst & Young Chairman and CEO Jim Turley and AT&T Chairman, CEO and President Randall Stephenson, who are both BSA board members. Turley very publicly urged the Boy Scouts to reconsider the policy to better reflect the times; the Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs and the U.S. military all have policies of inclusion.
"I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service. However, the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse," Turley said last June. "As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress."
Ernst & Young is No. 6 in the DiversityInc Top 50 and No. 4 in The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees. AT&T is No. 4 in the DiversityInc Top 50 and No. 8 in The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for LGBT Employees. Merck & Co. is No. 16 in the DiversityInc Top 50. All three companies have a 100 percent rating on the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign, which designates those organizations demonstrating workplace equality for LGBT employees.