Roughly half of the 280 local Boy Scout councils in the United States recommend no change in the organization’s membership policy banning openly gay members and Scout leaders. Survey results, however, show less support today from parents for the policy than three years ago, in addition to a majority of major funders that do not support the current policy.
Despite the divisions regarding the topic, the issue of allowing openly gay members will be decided later this month when the National Council of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is set to vote on a resolution that would specifically change its policy.
If passed at its National Annual Meeting May 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, the resolution would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. If it fails, there will be no changes to the current policy. The Irving, Texas-based organization on April 19 released the proposed resolution, which states in part: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” The resolution maintains the current membership policy for adult Scout leaders.
The Boy Scouts does not have “an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda,” according to the resolution. “Scouting’s review confirmed that this remains among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.”
The proposed resolution also “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” according to a statement by BSA.
Along with the proposed two-page resolution, Scouts released a five-page executive summary of its Membership Standards Study, initiated in February. The resolution and findings will culminate with a vote by the approximately 1,400 members in May. Voting members of the National Council include elected members of the National Executive Board, the chairman of the National Executive Board and National Eagle Scout Association, members of regional boards, local council presidents and local council commissioners, and members at-large.
The “Voice of the Scout Membership Standards Survey” was sent to more than one million adult members earlier this year, with more than 200,000 respondents. The summary outlines results of seven study groups: youth, parents and leaders, local councils, national council, chartered organizations, finance and fundraising, and legal.
Slightly more members of the board and Advisory Council initially supported the current policy, but board members reversed themselves to slightly opposing the current rules after responding to the scenarios in the survey. A majority of the board does not consider the current policy to be core to Scouting’s values, while a majority of the Advisory Council does. A large majority of the respondents believe they can find a way to continue in Scouting whether or not the BSA’s decision agrees with their own views, the study said.
The Executive Committee unanimously agreed that the resolution “is in the best interest of Scouting.” Key findings considered by the committee included:
- Views among parents aged 50 and younger have changed significantly in the past three years, with a majority now opposing the current policy;
- Parents, teens and the Scouting community do not favor a local chartered organization option;
- Parents in three of the four BSA regions oppose the current membership policy; and,
- Of six scenarios presented in surveys, the one with overwhelming majorities of parents, teens and members of the Scouting community strongly agreeing with is that it would be unacceptable to deny an openly gay Scout an Eagle Scout award solely due to sexual orientation.
Survey results present a softening on the policy in recent years, at least among parents. Parents supported the BSA policy by a margin of 58 percent to 29 percent three years ago but today 45 percent of parents oppose it, compared to 42 percent who do not. Three years ago, 57 percent of parents of current Scouts supported the current policy compared with only 48 percent today.
Yet survey results still indicate divisions in some areas. Among the 200,000 respondents, the survey found support for the existing policy:
- 61 percent overall (compared with 34 percent against);
- 50 percent of Cub Scout parents versus 45 percent who oppose it;
- 61 percent of Boy Scout parents;
- 62 percent of unit leaders;
- 64 percent of council and district volunteers; and,
- 72 percent of chartered organizations.
Among BSA’s 280 local councils, 50.5 percent recommend no change to the policy compared with 38.5 percent recommending a change, while 11 percent take a neutral position.
Opposition to a policy change has ranged from the practical to the moral. There was some concern among councils that the National Board would vote on a resolution at its February meeting, without local input. The Greater Salt Lake Council (GSLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah, sent a letter on behalf of 33 councils to the national board urging members to delay a vote back in February.
The main objection stemmed from being kept in the dark about the decisions to possibly change the policy. “We oppose any change without complete and open discussion. We’ve been left out and want to be engaged,” Kay Godfrey, GSLC’s director of development and public relations, said in February.
Others are worried that opening scouting to gays would erode the moral fiber of the BSA. “The Boy Scouts is grounded in Judeo-Christian moral principles, one of which is that sexual intimacy is reserved for a man and woman in marriage,” said Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president at the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. “Because of their commitment to traditional sexual morality, anything that deviates from that, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is inappropriate,” he said earlier this spring.
Some groups don’t think the change goes far enough. “We are happy to see BSA reconsidering its national ban … but we believe it won’t do enough to end discrimination,” said Crosby Burns, a research associate for the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “We think it’s a good first step but not the only step. It’s a region-by-region level where in certain regions gay scouts will be discriminated against,” he said.
Burns added that in a time when membership has dropped approximately 20 percent among scouts and 14 percent among adult volunteers since 2000, “Why would you want to kick out people based on a characteristic that has nothing to do with their service,” he sad. “It’s a common sense move to reconsider the ban,” he added.
A membership policy change that includes both youth and adults could cause membership losses estimated at 100,000 to 350,000, according to survey results, while a gain in membership as a result of a policy change could be about 10,000 to 20,000 youth.
The chartered organization study group included results from 64 religious and 54 nonreligious organizations, but not the largest chartered organization — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “Many religious chartered organizations stated their concern is with homosexual adult leaders and not with youth,” the executive summary noted.
Boy Scouts of America is a private, nonprofit organization with revenue of almost $1 billion annually, some $393 million in public support and $325 million derived from program service revenue. Less than $4.5 million was reported as government support in 2011, the latest available numbers.
Conceding that it’s a cynical point of view, Joseph J. Levin, Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala., said after February’s delayed vote that BSA’s change of heart might have something to do with changes in its board of directors or larger funders who are unhappy with the existing policy. Councils indicate a third of major donors support a policy change, according to BSA’s survey results, while on average, councils said 51 percent of major donors don’t support a policy change.
A majority of current and former corporations that have or had sponsor sponsorship-type relationships with BSA do not support the current policy, according to the summary. A majority of the Fortune 500 companies support a change in policy while foundation and major donor groups are split. A survey of alumni and National Eagle Scout Association shows 54 percent support current policy compared with 41 percent who oppose.
Levin expects BSA to get backlash from Evangelical religious groups, specifically naming the FRC as having “conniptions” over the decision. “The more aggravation we can cause to Tony, the happier we are — although it’s probably good for his fundraising,” said Levin, referring to FRC President Tony Perkins.
Some local United Ways, long supporters of the Boy Scouts, have dropped their sponsorships of the group in recent years due to BSA’s admission policies and their own diversity and inclusiveness policies. The United Way of Greater Cleveland (UWGC) is one of the most recent to add sexual orientation to its diversity and inclusion policy.
UWGC President and CEO Bill Kitson expects the Boy Scouts’ request for funding to be denied when it comes time to resubmit funding applications this spring, if nothing changes in its policy. UWGC funds the urban scouting Scoutreach program to the tune of about $100,000 each year. NPT