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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reconsiders ban on gay youths

2013-MAY-22/23: 50 religious leaders ask to continue
discrimination. The BSA National Council votes.
The BSA future? Reactions by persons harmed.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay.

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2013-MAY-22: Conservative religious leaders plead with BSA to retain its discriminatory membership policy:

Leaders from 50 U.S. religious organizations signed a statement "imploring" the BSA to continue to expel gay youths from Scouting wherever they are found. It said:

"We strongly support the Boy Scouts of America current prohibition on open homosexuality and retaining it without revision.  Nearly 70 percent of BSA troops are hosted by churches and religious institutions.  Upholding traditional morality is vital for sustaining this partnership, for protecting Scout members, and for ensuring BSA has a strong future.  A proposal from the BSA board to prohibit 'discrimination' based on 'sexual orientation or preference' for BSA members potentially would open the Scouts to a wide range of open sexual expressions.  In our current culture, it is more important than ever for our churches to protect and provide moral nurture for young people and for the Scouts.  We implore members of the upcoming BSA Council to affirm the BSA’s present policy, which the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed, and which has served BSA well." 1

The reference to the Supreme Court affirming the discriminatory policy may confuse some people. Actually, in the year 2000, the court narrowly ruled -- by a 5:4 decision -- that since the BSA is a private organization, they have the legal right to reject any member -- or refuse to admit individuals into membership -- for any reason. The court did not rule on the morality, ethics or advisability of denying gay youth access to Scouting.

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2013-MAY: Conflicts during the weeks before the vote by the National Council:

Whether through ignorance, misunderstanding, honest difference of opinion, or intentional lying, competing claims were made about the current status of gay youths in the BSA, the procedures used during vote, and whether the proposed procedure would "sexualize scouting:"

  • Current status of gay youth in the BSA:

    • Some have claimed that gay Scout youth have, in recent years, been able to be open with their sexual orientation, and that gay youth were only expelled if they actively advocated and agitated in favor of homosexuality, or if they engaged in actual same-gender sexual behavior.

    • However, according to a Findings of Fact in a District of Columbia court case:

      "If a youth comes to a Scoutmaster and admits to doing wrong, like stealing, lying, cheating or vandalizing, the normal procedure is to counsel the youth privately and sympathetically...If the youth admits to being a homosexual, the Boy Scouts' policy is to instantly terminate his association with Scouting." 2

  • Voting procedures:
    • Cathy Ruse is a senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council (FRC). The FRC has been listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. She expressed concern about the accuracy of the vote counting procedure. She wrote:

      "There are troubling reports of an influx of delegates. Votes at meetings are [usually] done by voice votes; this time it will be paper ballots filled out in delegates' hotel rooms and counted by friends of the BSA executive."

      According to the Christian Post:

      "She further explained that she was privy to reports that there is a calculated and elaborate push to deceive the organization's 1,400 delegates to support lifting the more than century-old ban on homosexuality.

    • National spokesperson for the BSA, Deron Smith, said that allegations of vote tampering were "absolutely incorrect." The BSA has arranged with an independent election services company to handle the process. He wrote:

      "The voters of the national council are defined by our bylaws. And the BSA has hired TrueBallot to administer the vote. Voters will be issued credentials and the vote will all happen in one room and [be]validated by TrueBallot."5

  • "Sexualizing Scouting:"
    • Some critics complain that if the BSA allows gay youths to join and remain in the group, that Scouting would be thereby "sexualized."

    • Others say that the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the resulting expulsion of any gay Scout that comes out of the closet has already sexualized Scouting, and that the proposed policy would reduce the level of sexualizing by making sexual orientation a non-issue.

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2013-MAY-23: The vote on whether to adopt the proposed policy change to allow gay youth to remain in Scouting:

On the afternoon of MAY-23, starting at 2 PM local time, the approximately 1,400 members of the BSA National Council voted to replace the previous policy towards gay Scouts. The delegates were profoundly divided on the decision whether to continue the existing policy of discriminating against gay youth. That policy was similar to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy in the U.S. military which was abandoned in the Fall of 2011. That is, as long as a gay youth member of the BSA did not reveal his sexual orientation, he was allowed to stay. But if he revealed his orientation or if the BSA found out some other way that he was gay, national policy was that he would be instantly expelled from the organization.

The delegates voted to approve the proposed change in national policy to allow gay youth to join and stay in the Boy Scouts without fear of being expelled. However, when they become an adult on their 18th birthday, they will be unilaterally ejected from the organization.

The delegates' vote was 61% in favor of the change vs 38% in favor of retaining the more discriminatory DADT policy. The final vote was a surprise to most people. The BSA had earlier conducted a massive poll of its leaders, parents, and youth members, starting in 2013-FEB. Of the more than 200,000 persons who responded, the same percentage -- 61% -- opposed the change; 34% favored it. The survey also showed that most parents of young Scouts along with young Scouts themselves favored change. It appears that between the date of the survey and the date of the vote a lot of national council members changed their minds. That may have been because they were exposed to both sides of the argument prior to the vote.

John Stemberger is founder of OnMyHonor.net, the main national group whose sole mandate is to maintain the national BSA discriminatory policy in force. His group is joining with other like-minded individuals and organizations. They will meet in Louisville KY during 2013-JUN where they will discuss the creation of "... a new character development organization for boys" similar to and in competition with the Boy Scouts of America. The new group will presumably have policies to prevent gays of all ages from joining and will expel any that they find in their group. 3

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What is at stake in the BSA's future?:

In 2013, there are 2.6 to 2.7 million youth in the Boy Scouts, and about a million volunteer adults. The BSA has been losing about 100,000 members a year. About 70% of the Scout troops are sponsored by faith groups of whom the largest numbers of troops are affiliated with three denominations of whom two have had a history of opposition to gay equality: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (a.k.a. the LDS or Mormon Church), the Roman Catholic Church.

The LDS Church now favors and end to discrimination against gay youth in the BSA. The committee that controls Scouting in the Catholic Church issued an ambiguous statement about how they would handle the new BSA policy. The Assemblies of God is promoting its own Royal Rangers in competition to the BSA. Some commentators expect that many conservative denominations will abandon the BSA rather than allow gay youth equal access to Scouting. This will probably initially result in a fairly sudden major loss of membership. However, by bringing Scout policy in harmony with rapidly changing public opinion, it might eventually reduce membership loss from where it would have been if their discriminatory policy was retained.

There seems to be a widely held opinion that once the BSA fully adopts the new policy that a next step will be taken at some time in the future to allow adult gays and lesbians into the BSA.

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Towleroad reported on reactions from individuals who have experienced past harm due to the now abandoned discriminatory policy:

'When I was kicked out of the Boy Scouts last April, I was devastated.' said Ohio mom Jennifer Tyrrell, who in April 2012, alongside GLAAD, reignited a national conversation about discrimination in Scouting after she was ousted as leader of her son's Cub Scout pack because she's gay. 'Having to look my son, Cruz, in the eye and tell him that our family isn't good enough was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Today is truly a watershed moment for me, but even more so for the millions of kids across this country, who will now be allowed to serve in the Scouts without fear of rejection. I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue'. ..."

Apparently Tyrrell will remain expelled from the BSA because she is a lesbian. The old policy of discriminating against adult gays and lesbians will continue.

'Just a few hours ago, I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout. Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing,' said Pascal Tessier, whose petition on Change.org received more than 128,000 signatures. 'Like my brother before me, I now have a chance to earn my Eagle award -- something that’s taken most of my life to achieve. Finally, Scouts are no longer forced to choose between upholding the Scout Oath and being open and honest about who they really are as a person.'

Towleroad continues:

" 'This is an historic day in the 103-year history of the Boy Scouts of America -- the day it finally found its moral compass and started down the long trail to equality in Scouting,' said former Kentucky father Greg Bourke, who was ousted as Scoutmaster of his son's Boy Scouts troop because he is gay. 'No longer will gay [youths in the ] Boy Scouts have to hide their sexual orientation from fear of being criticized and ousted from the Boy Scout membership rolls. That is definite progress, but even with this approved membership change, gay adults like Jennifer Tyrrell and myself will continue to be banned from serving in the Scouts, even in units with our own children. There is no other word for that except discrimination.'

'We are relieved to hear that other Scouts will not have to suffer the rejection and expulsion that Ryan experienced, and we’re glad to see that the BSA is finally starting to see how harmful its discriminatory policies have been,' said Eric Andresen, who along with his wife Karen, launched a petition on Change.org in support of their son Ryan. 'Had this policy been in place just 8 months ago, Ryan would already be an Eagle Scout, and he could've avoided so much pain.'

'Today’s vote ending discrimination of gay Scouts is truly a historic moment and demonstrates the Boy Scouts of America’s commitment to creating a more inclusive organization,' said Zach Wahls, Eagle Scout and Founder of Scouts for Equality. 'Scouts for Equality is honored to be a part of the movement that has achieved a tremendous victory towards the fight for equality in America and we are proud to call ourselves Scouts. We look forward to the day where we can celebrate inclusion of all members and are committed to continuing our work until that occurs'." 4

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Missouri Synod President signs joint statement on proposed changes to Boy Scout membership policy," Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, 2013-MAY-22, at: http://blogs.lcms.org/
  2. "Findings of Fact..., R.D. Pool & M.S. Geller vs. Boy Scouts of America..." Commission on Human Rights, Government of the District of Columbia, 1998-MAY-1, at http://www.uua.org/
  3. "Boy Scouts of America Press Conference," You Tube, 2013-MAY-23, at: http://youtu.be/
  4. "Boy Scouts votes to lift ban on gay members, retain ban on bay leaders," Towelroad, 2013-MAY-23, at: http://www.towleroad.com/
  5. Leonardo Blair, "Boy Scouts of America Denies Vote Tampering Allegations," Christian Post, 2013-MAY-22, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  6. From the Winter 2010 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Report. The SPLC monitors racist, homophobic, nativist, and other hate groups in the U.S. Online at: http://www.splcenter.org/

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Home > Religious conflict > U.S. & Worldwide > Boy Scouts > Reconsider gays > here

or Home > Hot topics > Homosexuality & bisexuality > Homophobia > Boy Scouts > Reconsider gays > here

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Copyright 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Original posting: 2013-MAY-23
Latest updated: 2013-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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