A welcome exhortation within the Boy Scouts of America to join the 21st century came last week when national board member James Turley, the CEO of the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, said he does not “personally endorse” the organization’s anti-gay policies. “As a global CEO, I know that having an inclusive culture produces the best results,” his statement said.
The Boy Scouts’ powers of exclusion, entrenched by a 2000 US Supreme Court decision, are being challenged anew in a national petition drive sparked by the ouster of Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian Cub Scout leader from Ohio. At the recent Boy Scouts convention in Orlando, 275,000 petition signatures were presented by Zach Wahls, a 20-year-old Eagle Scout who is the son of a lesbian couple and whose speech last year before the Iowa legislature for same-sex marriage went viral. He said the organization is “risking its relevancy to this generation at a time when its moral leadership is needed the most.”
One person pleased to see this first major crack in wall of the national organization is Bill Van Faasen, chairman of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Also an Eagle Scout, he was the incoming president of the Boston Minuteman Council in 2001 when it became the first major council to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy. (Realty firm CEO Dick DeWolfe was the outgoing president.) Van Faasen said Turley’s statement makes a change of policies by the Boy Scouts even more inevitable — “because corporate leaders on the national board can’t have it both ways, running companies with inclusive policies while supporting others that don’t.”
There are pragmatic reasons for a change in policy, as well. Especially among young people, society is solidly accepting of gay relationships. Even the Pentagon is celebrating gay pride month. Meanwhile, scout membership is at a dangerous dipping point, with 2.7 million youths compared to 4.8 million in the 1970s. If the Boy Scouts wants to remain an all-American bedrock of moral leadership in a modern America, it can only do so by opening its membership to all people.