The Boy Scouts have announced that they might change the rules on admitting gay scouts (it will be left up to individual troops, not set as national policy). Here’s the thing I like about it: it didn’t come from a Court decision or a federal law. SCOTUS, in fact, rejected anti-discrimination lawsuits against the Boy Scouts because they are a private organization*. What’s changing this is pressure from without and within the organization.
In a statement last July affirming the ban, its national executive board called it “the best policy for the organization.”
But since then, a scouting official said, local chapters have been urging a reconsideration. “We’re a grassroots organization. This is a response to what’s happening at the local level,” the official said.
Two corporate CEOs on BSA’s national board, Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young, have also said they would work to end the ban. Stephenson is next in line to be the BSA’s national chairman. During the 2012 presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney said the BSA should admit gay scouts and scout leaders.
About 50 local United Way groups and several corporations and charities have concluded that the ban violates their non-discrimination requirements and have ceased providing financial aid to the Boy Scouts. An official of The Human Rights Campaign, an advocate for gay rights, said HRC planned to downgrade its non-discrimination ratings for corporations that continue to give the BSA financial support.
I was a scout for several years. I never went very far but I enjoyed it. My troop was based around a church and was a little nervous about me because I was literally the first or second Jew to ever join their troop. But, in the end, they were welcoming and I got just as much hazing and support as any other scout. I’m confident they will deal with gays (and, potentially, atheists and agnostics) with the same warmth and grace.
I’m glad to see not only that they are reconsidering their policy, but considering, in essence, federalizing it. Leaving it to individual troops, at least for the time being, will ease the Scouts into the inclusive waters rather than jumping in and splashing everyone.
(*That designation is itself controversial since the Boy Scouts get a number of public benefits, including the President as honorary president. Most notable is the ongoing case of Barnes-Walls v. BSA over the $1 rent the Scouts pay for using part of Balboa Park.)