Boy Scouts considering dropping anti-gay ban

Mon. January 28, 2013 7:02 PM by Wisconsin Gazette

The Boy Scouts of America, which has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend its ban against gay scouts and troop leaders, may change its policy.

BSA spokesman Deron Smith issued the following statement today (Jan. 28): "For more than 100 years, Scouting's focus has been on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

"Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."

The policy change could come as early as next week, when the BSA holds a national meeting.

"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong," responded GLAAD president Herndon Graddick. "Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."

GLAAD, a national anti-defamation and LGBT advocacy group, has worked with Scouts for Equality to circulate petitions calling on the BSA to drop the policy.

Zach Wahls, the Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality who will be a keynote speaker at a Fair Wisconsin Education Fund event in February, said of the BSA announcement, "This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction. We look forward to working with BSA Councils and chartering organizations across the country to end the exclusion of our gay brothers in Scouting, as well as the gay and lesbian leaders who serve the organizations so well."

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also responded, saying, "The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination. Our nation and its leaders respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and it's time the Boy Scouts echo those values."

Drives to overturn the ban have escalated in the past year, with a focus on petitioning the BSA but also on companies and elected officials who have supported scouting programs, most recently the National Geographic Channel, which is debuting a TV series about scouting adventures this year. More than a million people have signed petitions in the past year.

The BSA has some 300 local councils. GLAAD reported that 11 of those councils, which are serving more than 260,000 scouts, have formally objected to the gay ban.

More than a decade ago, the BSA went to the Supreme Court to defend the ban, arguing that it is a private institution and, as such, it has the right to set its policies, even discriminatory policies.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a ruling issued in June 2000.

Since then, a number of public institutions have ousted BSA councils or troops because the organization's anti-gay policy conflicts with non-discrimination rules or laws.

Article provided in partnership with Wisconsin Gazette.