In testimony heard before a California state senate committee hearing, the Boy Scouts of America was referred to as the “most egregious violator” of laws passed to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination. Having banned the participation of openly gay individuals several years ago, America’s largest youth organization simultaneously broke the hearts of out and proud scouts and left LGBT activists and allies across the nation scorned.
On Wednesday, California lawmakers met to discuss legislation that would strip the tax exemption status of non-profits that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and/or religious affiliation. The biting admonishment of the Boy Scouts delivered by the bill’s author Senator Ricardo Lara stands as a political response to overwhelming criticism in the wake of the organization’s gay ban. Passing the Senate Governance and Finance Committee with only Democratic support, the proposed legislation requires a two-thirds majority in the full state legislature. Should the measure pass, California would become the first state to place implement restrictions on entities that discriminate against LGBT Americans.
The Boy Scouts’ decision runs countercurrent to a rising tide of gay movement political successes including the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and passage of marriage equality in several states. At a time when even notable conservative politicians are revisiting their stances on LGBT issues such as the Defense of Marriage Act, the Boy Scouts of America are facing the realities of what its actions mean amidst citizens’ changing views. Such gains that may provide enough momentum for state Senator Lara’s historic civil rights bill.
Under the weight of unrelenting scrutiny, the Boy Scouts announced in February that it would reconsider its gay ban only to recant its announcement a week later, delaying its decision until May. Consequently this week’s bold move by California lawmakers may prove to be an attempt to strong-arm the youth organization into making a final decision months before its self-imposed deadline. The combination of public and political pressure towards the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay stance merge to toe the line between the uses of hard and soft power.
Although the potential California could pave the way for greater LGBT equality, particularly in the non-profit arena, the possible removal of the Boy Scouts’ tax haven would undoubtedly impact the activities of 2.7 million scouts. The Californian Senate must now decide whether it providing preferential treatment to an organization that openly discriminates or place restrictions that would directly affect youth members of the Boy Scouts of America who have faithfully served the state from 1910 to the present day.