After hemorrhaging a quarter of its youth membership since the US Supreme Court upheld its ban on gay members in 2000, the Boy Scouts of America believes it has come up with a compromise. On May 23, the 1,400-member national board will vote on a resolution to drop its ban on gay Scouts, but maintain a ban on gay adult leaders. This is not a sustainable solution in a nation that increasingly accepts homosexuality.
The BSA’s 70-member National Executive Board attempted to drop the ban for both youth and adults last February but was met by protests from religious conservatives. In response, the BSA decided to put the vote to the top leaders of the nation’s 280 councils as well as conduct a national online survey to see what its members wanted.
The survey results were little different than major polling on attitudes toward gays and lesbians. Teen Scouts and their parents under 50 — the present and future of Scouting — reject discrimination against gays. Adult volunteers and officials over 50 favored maintaining the ban on gay adults. The majority of voting members of the BSA are over 50. That caused the BSA to come up with a resolution that amounts to a split decision.
The compromise would create a fresh hypocrisy within Scouting, telling gay Boy Scouts they are welcome until 18, and then kicked out if they want to stay with their troop as leaders. That would be particularly painful for gay Eagle Scout candidates who finish their requirements prior to the deadline of turning 18, but often have their actual Eagle application reviewed and approved after their 18th birthday. What kind of message is the BSA sending — honing leadership and citizenship in gay youth, only to tell them at 18 that they are no longer citizens in Scouting?
We are part of a nationwide Scout group that wants the BSA to accept the concept of “local control.” It would allow each church, synagogue, civic group, or PTA sponsoring a troop to choose its adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation. If certain troops wanted to exclude gay leaders, they would be free to do so.
This actually is more fitting with the BSA bylaws that require the organization to promote religious practice in a non-sectarian manner instead of clinging to a gay ban inspired by a very sectarian doctrine that declares homosexuality to be a sin. A BSA that is truly all-American would allow all members and denominations their rights to freedom of religion.
Unfortunately, the BSA says no other resolution except its own will be considered at the national meeting this month. Some groups who are fighting to drop the gay ban still plan to vote yes on the compromise because it is an incremental step forward. We agree. But we also hope that we can prevent the BSA from taking an unsustainable position that will continue to cost the organization dearly in credibility with America’s young families who want no part of blatantly discriminatory practices.
By clinging in such a hidebound manner to outdated, anti-gay policies, the BSA’s upcoming compromise is likely to be dismissed by the majority of Americans as too little, too late. If the BSA wants to retain its iconic position as the shaper of tomorrow’s leaders, adventure seekers, and conservationists, it should let all youths lead the Boy Scouts of America into the 21st century.
Michelle D. Holmes and Jay L. Lenrow are regional executive board members of the Northeast Region of the Boy Scouts of America.