Boys Scouts Allows Gay Leaders, Exempts Religious Councils

July 28, 2015       Mark Hrywna      

Barely two years after voting to allow openly gay youth members, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) removed a national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees. The National Executive Board ratified a resolution on Monday, with some 79 percent of its 71 members who were present and voting, in favor of it.

The resolution comes weeks after BSA’s Executive Committee recommended ratification and becomes effective immediately. Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and the change allows religious-chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders based on religious criteria, including matters of sexuality. The change allows members and parents to “select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families.”

In May 2013, the National Executive Board voted to allow openly gay members, effective January 2014, but a ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees remained. That vote carried with 61 percent of the board in favor.

As I said during our national annual meeting in May, due to the social, policy and legal changes taking place in our country — and in our movement — I do not believe that the adult leadership policy could be sustained,” said National President Robert M. Gates, a former U.S. defense secretary, via a video posted on Boy Scouts’ website after the vote. “Any effort to do so was going to inevitably to result in simultaneous legal battles, in multiple jurisdictions, and at staggering cost,” he said.

Monday’s vote brought to a close an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau into membership and hiring policies of BSA. The Greater New York Councils hired an openly gay adult Scout leader in February. As part of a settlement, BSA agreed to eliminate the standard nationally, develop guidelines to implement its new leadership standard, and ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws going forward. In another case last year, BSA revoked the charter of a Seattle affiliate after the group refused to remove an openly gay Scoutmaster from a leadership position.

The latest policy change by the 105-year-old organization brought cheers from some and consternation from others.

Scouts for Equality, a national organization of current and former Boy Scouts that campaigned the last three years to change the BSA policy, hailed what it called a historic vote. “While we still have some reservations about individual units discriminating against gay adults, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of Scouts. We look forward to collaborating with our supporters, progressive faith partners, allied nonprofit organizations, and the Boy Scouts of America, to ensure a fully inclusive Scouting movement,” said Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality.

In effect, Boy Scout units sponsored by churches will have the right to continue discriminating against gay adults on troop-by-troop basis, the organization said. Units sponsored by secular organizations will not be allowed to discriminate.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest sponsor of Boy Scouts councils, issued a statement describing itself as troubled by the vote and promised to examine its association with Scouting when its leadership resumes its regular schedule of meetings next month. The Salt Lake City, Utah-based organization had requested a delay on the vote because members of its governing councils do not meet in July.

“The church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America,” according to the statement. “As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.”

Likewise, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issued a statement expressing “consummate sadness” that “this once-vibrant organization continues to cave to social pressure, compromising its long-held, constitutionally-protected tenants.”

“The best way to allow BSA to continue to focus on its mission and preserve its core values was to address the issue and set our own course. And that’s what we’ve done,” Gates said. “For far too long, this issue has divided and distracted us. Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in the community and in lives of their youth members.”