The state Senate in California is targeting the tax-exempt status of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) with a bill that ensures equity for all after the organization voted to continue its ban on gay scout leaders while allowing gay youth to join.
SB 323, the Youth Equality Act, was introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) because of BSA’s refusal to accept gay adults as leaders conflicts with California’s anti-discriminatory laws. He believes that the organization is “out of line with the values of Californians.”
“SB 323 brings our laws into line with our values,” he said when introducing the bill Wednesday, which passed by a 27-9 vote. It now moves on to the state Assembly.
The bill does not specifically mention BSA, stating instead that the law would apply to all “nonprofit youth organizations that receive special state tax privileges.” That would specifically single out the Irving, Texas-based organization, which still does not allow gay adults to become leaders despite last week’s rule change allowing gay youth.
A call to BSA for comment on the measure was not immediately returned.
After last week’s 61-38 vote, BSA issued a statement reaffirming 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.”
Lara said, “While it is a step in the right direction, continuing a ban on adults is based on absurd assumptions and stereotypes that perpetuate hate and homophobia. What does this mean, that up until 17 you’re fine to be in the Boy Scouts but on midnight of your 18th birthday you turn into a pedophile or a predator? What kind of warped message does this send?,” Lara asked rhetorically. He is the first openly gay man of color to be elected to the California Senate
James Dale, a former Eagle Scout who was expelled for being gay and whose landmark 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case bought national attention to BSA’s policy on gay members, agreed with this line of thinking. He said that BSA’s rule change still encourages discrimination among non-gay kids and tells gay kids “if you are honest about who you are you will be thrown out.”
As SB 323 would change California’s tax code, it needed two-thirds support to pass. Three senators did not participate in the vote: Democrat Rod Wright and Republicans Anthony Cannella and Bill Emmerson.