Boy Scouts End Ban On Gay Scout Leaders
As had been expected for some time, the Boy Scouts of America have rescinded the ban on gay Scout Leaders, although exceptions will remain in place for Scout Troops sponsored by churches and religious organizations:
The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.
Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”
Only two weeks ago, the Mormon Church hinted that it could remain in the fold so long as its units could pick their own leaders.
The top Boy Scouts leaders, including Robert M. Gates, the current president and a former defense secretary who pushed for the new policy, did not immediately respond to the Mormon declaration. In previous statements, Mr. Gates expressed the hope that with the exemption for religious groups, the Boy Scouts might avoid a devastating splintering.
Many scouting leaders said they had not expected the Mormon Church’s sharp response and threat to leave.
“My assumption was that the concept voted on today had been fully vetted so as to avoid any unnecessary surprises,” said Jay Lenrow, a longtime volunteer scout leader in Baltimore who is on the executive committee of the Scouts’ northeast region and serves on the organization’s national religious relationships committee.
“I can only say that I’m hopeful that when the leadership of the L.D.S. Church meets and discusses the issue, that they will find a way to continue to support scouting,” Mr. Lenrow added.
Mormons use the Boy Scouts as their main nonreligious activity for boys, and the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts units they sponsor accounted for 17 percent of all youths in scouting in 2013, the last year for which data have been published.
Under the policy adopted Monday, discrimination based on sexual orientation will also be barred in all Boy Scouts offices and for all paid jobs — a step that could head off looming lawsuits in New York, Colorado and other states that prohibit such discrimination in employment.
One legal threat was immediately averted. In response to the change, the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, announced on Monday that his office was ending its investigation of the Scouts for violating state anti-discrimination laws.
The Boy Scouts’ national executive board, composed of 71 civic, corporate and church leaders, adopted the changes with 79 percent of those who participated in a telephone meeting voting in favor, according to an announcement issued by the Scouts. The announcement did not say how many board members were not present.
The policy change, which was expected, was widely seen as a watershed for an institution that has faced growing turmoil over its stance toward gay people, even as it struggles to halt a long-term decline in members. It was praised by gay-rights organizations as a major if incomplete step toward ending discrimination.
Some conservative evangelical churches ended ties with the Boy Scouts after the 2013 decision to admit openly gay youths. Total national enrollment of youths, which had declined by a few percentage points in many prior years, fell by 6 percent in 2013 and by 7 percent in 2014, to 2.4 million.
More departures by religious conservatives are likely, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mr. Moore expressed skepticism about the Scouts’ promise to let church-sponsored units exclude gay leaders on religious grounds.
“After the Scouts’ shift on membership, they told religious groups this wouldn’t affect leadership,” he said. “Now churches are told that these changes will not affect faith-based groups. Churches know that this is the final word only until the next evolution.”
But scouting executives hope that with Monday’s change they can renew ties with corporate donors, schools and public agencies and attract parents who had steered their children away from scouting because of the policy.
“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth, helping them to grow into good, strong citizens,” said the statement Monday from the Boy Scouts.
It was just over two months that Robert Gates, the former Defense Secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, urged the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America to change the policy that barred gay men from serving as Scout Leaders. As Gates noted at the time, whatever logic there may have been for the ban in the past disappeared in 2013 when the organization lifted its ban on openly gay members. Once that bar was lifted, there was never any justification for the policy applying to Scout Leaders, and the organization was risking being threatened with lawsuits and action by state and local governments if it didn’t repeal a policy that was clearly out of step with public opinion. Additionally, continuing the policy would have meant continuing to deal with boycotts against the organization that seemed to be beginning to spread to larger entities in the past several months. That’s why, in his speech in May, Gates’s argument for ending the ban concentrated more on saving the BSA from years and years of potential litigation and public embarrassment over an issue that isn’t really worth fighting over.
As I said when Gates made his speech, ending the ban is obviously the right thing to do. From the beginning, the policy itself was based more in prejudice and religious superstitions than it was in reality. The obvious implication that supporters of the ban always made, of course, was that keeping gay men out of Scout leadership positions was meant to protect children from abuse. Since there’s never been any evidence to support the contention that people who are gay are more likely to abuse children, this was always an argument based on fear and nonsense, but it was one that played in to public opinion about gays and lesbians that only began to change within the last fifteen years or so. When the BSA itself was rocked with scandals involving actual abuse by leaders who not gay, the argument for the ban lost all credibility.
There will be some complaining, I suppose, over the accommodation that the new policy grants to Scout Troops sponsored by churches and religious organizations. Ideally, these troops would not be discriminating based on sexual orientation to begin with, but that may be too much to ask for. Additionally, since many of these religiously sponsored Scout troops seem to incorporate faith into their programs, it may not be unreasonable for the national organization to allow them to make the policy choice themselves. In time, hopefully, they will follow the rest of the nation, but for now this is a very good step forward.
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