After decades of controversy, the Boy Scouts of America may finally stop discriminating against gay scouts and scoutmasters. A new policy that will be considered by BSA’s national board next week in Texas would allow each scouting unit to decide independently whether to allow gay members and leaders, rather than having the national organization set the agenda. OK, they’re passing the buck from the top to the troops, but it’s still a step forward.
Because it’s a private nonprofit organization, BSA has won the dubious right to discriminate, including in a 2000 Supreme Court decision. But the bad publicity it’s received—such as last year’s controversy over fired lesbian Cub Scout leader Jennifer Tyrrell—along with growing acceptance for gay rights in the U.S. has suddenly turned the tide.
The long-standing anti-gay ban was reaffirmed by BSA just seven months ago, with the national board claiming it was “the best policy for the organization.” However, about 50 local United Way chapters and several other corporations and charities have discontinued financial aid to the Scouts because of their anti-gay policies, and two corporate bigwigs on the BSA board, Randall Stephenson of AT&T (who is next in line to be national chairman) and James Turley of Ernst & Young, have said they would work to end the ban.
“The Boy Scouts of America is one of the last cultural institutions to have discrimination as part of their policy,” points out Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation vice president, Richard Ferraro. The Girl Scouts of America, in comparison, have had an anti-discrimination policy since 1980.
If the new policy is approved, it will certainly move BSA in the right direction, but until the organization institutes a national policy to end LGBT discrimination, we can’t give it a full merit badge.