Boy Scouts Approve Change To Membership Policy

May 23, 2013       Mark Hrywna      

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has voted to allow openly gay youth members but a ban remains in place on openly gay adult leaders. The resolution passed by a 61-38 percent margin among the 1,400 voting members.

The policy change will take effect Jan. 1, 2014 and a task force will aid in the implementation. The 103-year-old organization represents 2.6 million youth members and 1 million adult volunteers.

BSA issued a 366-word statement after ballots were counted this afternoon. The resolution “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place.”

How the move will affect membership remains to be seen but the organization seemed to be in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.” A Membership Standards Review Voting Member Information Packet circulated this spring summarized the results of a national survey about a potential policy change and potential financial and membership losses.

If the policy were changed to include both youth and adults, membership losses could range from 100,000 to 350,000, according to the results. That estimate, however, did not include BSA’s largest chartered organization: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which has had a century-old relationship with Boy Scouts. In recent weeks, the Mormon Church has come out and endorsed the proposed resolution. Allowing gay youth but not including adult leaders – as the resolution suggests – may be an acceptable alternative to religious groups, according to the report, particularly the Southern Baptist and other Baptist groups.

Any gain in membership because of a change to the membership policy would be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 youth. Financial losses if chartered organizations leave the BSA could run in the tens of millions of dollars overall, with pockets of regions reporting potential gains, including one area in the Central of $3 million. Some regions, however, reported the possibility of attracting corporate and major donors, as well as United Way support, which has dwindled since the landmark 2000 Supreme Court case, Dale v. Boy Scouts of America.

If membership standards are changed, estimated financial losses would be significant enough to have a major impact on the ability of councils to meet community needs, the report said, though increases from United Way, corporate donors, foundations and more liberal families could increase.

The most cited concern among Advisory Council members was “the possibility of becoming socially irrelevant in a changing society if the policy is not changed.” Some worried that the goal to serve the largest possible number of youth might be difficult if the current policy “alienates people in metropolitan areas where the demographic groups most in need of programs reside.” Liability issues also were a concern for many of the governing organizations. Some deferred comments until after the vote takes place while others have indicated they will not take a position.

By region, only the Northeast region definitely came out in favor of recommending a policy change, Central and Southern recommended no change, and the Western advised further definition in the policy as it relates to adult and youth.

The Southern region could be most affected by any policy change and was the most vocal among the four regions in the survey results released by Boy Scouts. The potential exodus of organizations affiliated with the Southern region is eight times as high should the policy change compared to if there is no change. The Southern region also questioned the governance model of the BSA, expressing resentment and a lack of confidence in the national leaders that their opinions were not considered.

Potentially, the Western region also could see organizations leave the Boy Scouts. The region reported that “absolutely no change” in membership standards is not sustainable in the long term but without a stronger consensus and further definition, it did not endorse the new policy. A key issue in the West is whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-Day Saints is on board. If LDS were to leave Boy Scouts, membership would be halved, representing all of the current church membership, according to the report.

The Northeast Region’s 65 Councils appear to be in the best shape if the resolution passes. With some exceptions, most councils in the Northeast agreed that changing to a standard that does not discriminate against homosexual youth or adults would have a positive impact on short- and long-term membership.