In what could be a landmark victory for LGBTQ rights, the Boys Scouts of America are seriously considering dropping the ban on gay scouts and leaders.
The organization is considering removing the ban from its national charter. The move would allow local chapters to decide for themselves whether to admit gay youth into the scouts and whether to allow for gay scout masters. Deron Smith a spokesperson for the national organization explained that the decision would allow individuals sponsors and parents to “choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.” It would appear that the organization is going through the same evolution in thought, action, and policy that resulted in President Obama repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The controversial issue is placing a strain on the organization. They are losing sponsors, financial support and a series of controversial decisions has elevated the policy to national attention. It would seem that the BSA at this point is on the wrong side of the issue and needs to modify its policy to be consistent with its oath, motto, and slogan.
A change in the organization’s policy would be recognition that sexual orientation doesn’t preclude a young man from fulfilling and living up to the Boy Scout oath, motto, slogan or its laws. The Boy Scout oath speaks of duty to country, God, and the Scout’s law. It doesn’t have anything to do with sexual orientation. The scout motto is “be prepared.” The motto is not “be prepared to be heterosexual.” There is nothing about being gay that stops a young man from fulfilling the scout slogan to “do a good turn daily.” A scout is expected to help other people, and be physically strong and mentally awake. The scout law says to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. It seems easy enough for any young man regardless of sexual orientation to fulfill those requirements.
The Boy Scout oath also speaks of staying “morally straight.” Morally straight is an ambiguous term. It means that a scout should be “clean” in thought, word, and deed. However given a multi-cultural society that is a very subjective definition. We come from different backgrounds, religious beliefs and family structure and dynamics. If by faith you find homosexuality to be immoral then you can easily justify not allowing gay scout members. That is why the decision to remove the restriction from the national charter and allow local troops to make their own decisions is the proper course of action.
The BSA has come under extreme pressure to change its national rules after a series of cases received national attention. In 2012, the case of Ryan Andresen, a gay teen from California received national attention. Andresen was denied an opportunity to advance to Eagle Scout because of his sexual orientation. The BSA stated that it had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy but Andresen was out and proud. Jennifer Tyrell was removed from her position of Cub Scout den master because of her sexual orientation. She challenged the BSA decision saying “I truly love Scouts and I truly ... want to see this change take place, and not just for myself, but for families and children everywhere.”
The BSA issue even made its way into national politics. During the 2012 presidential election, both President Obama and Mitt Romney opposed the ban.
The Boys Scouts of America has maintained its restrictive policy against gay members for decades. In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, 5-4 to maintain its restriction against gay members. In 2012, after a two year study, the BSA reaffirmed its position against gay membership. The national board insisted that maintaining the restriction was in the best interests of the organization. However national board members, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young have advocated removing the ban. Turley and Stephenson are strong proponents of diversity. As CEO’s of their respective companies they have driven diversity programs. They intend to use that that attitude and commitment in their effort to move the BSA to a more inclusive policy. Regarding the current policy Turley stated “the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse.”
The BSA restriction has affected its financial support and sponsorship. “About 50 local United Way groups and several corporations and charities have concluded that the ban violates their non-discrimination requirements and have ceased providing financial aid to the Boy Scouts.” A BSA official told NBC “other organizations have threatened to withdraw their financial support if the BSA drops the ban.”
The decision to remove the restriction from the national charter would allow the 290 local councils to make membership decisions based on their own beliefs. It is a step in the right direction. The national committee will be making its decision in early February 2013.