Boy Scouts’ Face Increased Pressure Over ’No Gay’ Rule
This summer the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its longtime policy barring openly gay scouts and leaders. The BSA says that after two years of review, an 11-member subcommittee reached a unanimous decision to uphold the exclusionary practice.
The national scouting organization's leaders have been claiming, ever since a controversial Supreme Court decision in 2000. BSA has been maintaining, in the face of pressure from liberal organizations, LGBT groups, churches and some local governments, that its "no gay" rule for scouts and scout leaders receives broad support among the individual scout troops.
Despite the supposed findings by BSA leaders, it is becoming more and more apparent that more and more of the rank-and-file don't like the policy and are openly defying it.
The BSA is especially alarmed at some of the Boy Scouts' major corporate supporters that are also joining in the ongoing protest. News stories periodically erupt about Gay Eagle Scouts and their straight allies ceremoniously returning their badges. The movement has grown by the hundreds.
Opponents of the ban believe that the policy is discriminatory and contradicts the fundamental principles of scouting. For its part, BSA has continued what some see as a witch hunt to enforce its anti-gay policy. Out scout leaders have been thrown out of the organization.
A Policy in Peril
Many local Boy Scout councils are protesting prejudice not through words but also deeds. They are filing petitions for change. But they're also quietly allowing out-gay scouts and adult leaders.
The recent backlash, led in large part by non-gay scout leaders, indicates that the BSA may not be able to maintain its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"-style policy much longer.
How long before it is eliminated?
"I think it's a matter of time," said Rich Ferraro, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. The anti-defamation group has become a major player in campaigns to change Boy Scout policy.
"The policy sends a message to these kids that who you are is not good enough," Ferraro noted. "Who you are is not worthy of being a scout. That's a dangerous message to be sending when bullying is at an all-time high, and as we read stories about young people -- especially LGBT young people -- taking their own lives."
If the Supreme Court's June 2000 decision in Boy Scouts of America et al v. Dale upheld the right of the BSA to exclude gays from its ranks, culturally the landscape has shifted in the ensuing decade. This summer both President Barak Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney found common agreement on at least one thing: Both publicly stated opposition to the BSA policy.
Hitting BSA Where It Counts, in the Pocketbook
James Turley, chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, are among BSA executive board members who have spoken out against the policy. The BSA policy has already significantly affected its coffers.
Recently, board members of United Way of the Capital Region, the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the national nonprofit United Way, unanimously voted in August not to renew a partnership with a local Boy Scouts chapter beyond early 2013. Last year, the chapter received over $89,000 from UWCR.
"The undesignated money United Way distributes through its citizen review process is meant to serve all segments of our community," UWCR President Joseph Capita, a former Boy Scout, told Pennsylvania newspaper The Sentinel. "By deciding not to service a portion of our community, the Boy Scouts are in conflict with United Way's policies, which ensure access to programs and services."
As public opinion continues to favor inclusion, it's likely that the Boy Scouts will continue to lose donations and members. Membership is already down 20 percent since 1999, the year preceding the Supreme Court decision.
"At some point, they'll bite the bullet. The marginal cost [of maintaining the anti-gay policy] will become greater than the marginal benefit, in purely economic terms," said Zach Wahls, a young activist who became a YouTube sensation when he addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee on a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Wahl's impassioned, eloquent statements about growing up with two moms not only went viral, it turned the former Eagle Scout, now 21, into one of the best-known opponents of the BSA.
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