Boys Scouts Close To Allowing Gay Members

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) could be close to ending its prohibition of gay scouts and leaders. Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Irving, Texas-based organization, said in a statement: “Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.”

The national executive board could vote on the issue as early as next week, when it convenes in Irving February 4 through 6.

Admitting gay members would be up to “the charter organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting” on a chapter-by-chapter basis, according to Smith’s statement. It added that parents and scouts would be free “to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families” and that “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents.”

This past June, BSA’s national executive board voted to reaffirm its national policy excluding gays. The vote came after two years of deliberation regarding the policy by an executive committee. A statement released in July said the policy “remains in the best interest of Scouting.”

Cub Scout Pack 442 of Cloverly, Md., added a statement to its website last August pledging not to discriminate against homosexuals. The pack subsequently took the statement down in January after its overseeing council, the National Capital Area Council (NCAC), based in Bethesda, Md., said the pack could lose its charter. Representatives from neither Pack 442 nor NCAC were immediately available to comment.

Two members of the National Council’s board – Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson – have publically supported changing the organization’s policy. Stephenson is in line to become chairman of the board next year, succeeding Wayne Perry, CEO of Shotgun Creek Investments, a private equity firm, and a co-owner of the Seattle Mariners.

Turley made a statement last year after a 336,000-person petition on Change.org called for the Boy Scouts to end the ban on homosexuals. “The membership policy is not one I would personally endorse,” Turley said via the statement. “I intend to continue to work from within the BSA board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.” Turley could not be reached for comment about the latest potential board action by presstime.

The organization has lost support over the years from other charities, including United Ways, for its exclusion of homosexuals. If the organization was to amend its policy, it might regain those supporters but then lose support from churches and others opposed to changing the policy.

Among the sponsors to drop during the past year were Major League Soccer and technology giant Intel.

The Boy Scouts reported revenue of $904 million for fiscal 2011, the last available statistics. Of that, $393.9 million was from public support such as sponsorships. That’s down significantly from 2010 when the organization reported $1.2 billion in revenue and $425.7 million from public support.

Since last summer’s vote by the board, several reports have emerged about scouts returning their Eagle Scout awards, the highest level of scouting. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled, 5-4, to allow the Boy Scouts to ban gays. Founded in 1910, Boy Scouts of America has more than 2.6 million scouts and about a million adult members across the United States, and aggregate total revenue last year of almost $1 billion.