The BSA has prohibited LGBT adults from participating in leadership roles as scout masters, troop leaders and volunteers for decades. But this week, a resolution to lift the ban was unanimously approved by the group's National Executive Committee (the BSA ended its ban on allowing gay kids to participate in scouting in 2013). A final vote by the Scouts’ National Executive Board on July 27 will make it official.
The sad reality is that the vote to allow gay adults as scout leaders is largely symbolic — since local troops and charters will still have the freedom to discriminate against LGBT adults based on religious freedom and family values.
The new rules would eliminate the national Boy Scouts’ standing ban on gay adults participating in scouting and instead allow individual troops and units to determine their own policies on gay or bisexual scoutmasters and troop leaders. The new rules would also entitle adults who were previously turned away from scouting for their sexuality to reapply for their posts.
The move has been applauded by groups like Scouts for Equality, a group of adults committed to making Scouting more inclusive.
"Today’s announcement hopefully marks the beginning of the end of the Boy Scouts of America’s decades-old ban on gay leaders and parents like my two moms," Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and the Executive Director of Scouts for Equality said. “In two weeks, the BSA’s national executive board will vote to ratify a resolution that has already been unanimously adopted by their executive committee."
Although the ban on LGBTQ adults in scouting has been long standing, groups like GLAAD started putting pressure on the Boy Scouts of America to change in policies in 2012 when an Ohio mom and den leader for her 7-year-old’s Cub Scout pack, Jennifer Tyrrell, was removed as den leader for being gay. GLAAD launched a Change.org petition to support Tyrrell, which got more than 350,000 signatures of Americans who support lifting the ban on gay Americans in scouting.
"It's long past time to end discrimination in Scouting," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement about the BSA rule change to allow gay adult scout leaders. "Scouting is about leadership and values like honesty and integrity — values that this ban continues to undermine. The proposed resolution is a welcome step forward for fairness in Scouting, and it must be ratified swiftly. Otherwise, the Boy Scouts will fall even further out of step with a majority of Americans who support an end to this ban."
So is this good news for people who have turned away from the Scouts in droves over their antiquated policies?
Yes... and no.
It's pressure from groups like GLAAD that caused the BSA to reverse course. In the Boy Scouts of America’s list of media talking points distributed to members, the group reveals the pressures it faced from outstanding lawsuits over the ban on gay adults and that maintaining the rules against including gays in scouting was unsustainable.
"The BSA faces the prospect of litigation in multiple states in the very near future," The BSA wrote to its membership regarding the policy reversal. "Legal counsel has advised national leadership that the likelihood of being able to defend the policy going forward is very low. Due to the social, political and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, the current adult leadership policy cannot be sustained."
So it’s not so much that the Boy Scouts made the rule change because it’s the right thing to do, or because of some desire for social justice, but more about the fact that they knew their position banning gay people from their organization was legally indefensible. Pretty disappointing.
And since local chartered organizations ultimately have the freedom to ban gay adults based on “religious beliefs,” and other troops can decide what “best meets the needs of their families,” the likelihood of true institutional change seems pretty minimal.
"The BSA will continue to legally defend — or indemnify — the rights of its religious chartered organizations to choose leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own," the Boy Scouts of America assures its leadership.
It's important to recognize before we all go applauding the Boy Scouts of America for their progressive evolution that for the 2.4 million kids and 1 million adult leaders across the country, the Boy Scouts will continue to operate just as it has since it started in 1910.
Meanwhile the BSA reassures its leadership that this rule change doesn't impact the fundamental aim of the Boy Scouts.
"It remains the position of the Boy Scouts of America that the ideals and principles of 'duty to God' and 'a Scout is reverent' set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are central to teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes."
It’s up to the rest of us to decide whether this kind of organization has a place in modern America. To find out more about how your local Boy Scout troops plan to handle LGBT issues, visit the Boy Scouts of America site and enter in your zip code for your local contacts and let them know how you feel about allowing gay adults to serve as scout leaders.
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