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In explaining their decision to uphold the ban on gay members, the BSA has said it reflects the wishes of many parents with children in the organization.
”The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” said BSA Chief Executive Bob Mazzuca.
However, the shroud of secrecy surrounding the decision and its timing has raised questions about the motivation behind the announcement.
Indeed, days before the organization’s announcement, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T and vice president of the Boy Scouts, and Jim Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young and a BSA board member, expressed opposition to the ban.
The decision also comes a little more than a month before the start of the Republican and Democratic national conventions during an election year when LGBT rights have been thrust center stage following President Barack Obama’s same-sex marriage endorsement.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has expressed support for ending the ban in the past. During a 1994 Massachusetts Senate debate against Ted Kennedy, Romney said he supported the right of the BSA to determine their own policies but that he personally believes ”all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Where Romney stands on the issue today is unclear. Requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign.
Responding to public outcry, Mazzuca and BSA National President Wayne Perry wrote in a letter to the editor published by The Washington Post that they do not have an agenda when it comes to LGBT rights and will not use their program to enter a social and political debate.
”We value the freedom of everyone to express their opinion,” Mazzuca and Perry wrote, ”but describing us as intolerant because we set a membership standard as a private organization is inflammatory and makes civil discourse on this important topic impossible.”
However, some stand by the accusation that the BSA is an intolerant organization.
”They define themselves by their discrimination and by excluding gay people as immoral and unclean,” former Eagle Scout James Dale told Metro Weekly. Dale, who sued after he was expelled from the organization in 1990 for being gay, was at the center of the 2000 Supreme Court case that upheld the ban based on the right to freedom of association.
”I don’t think the Boy Scouts really have a place in society anymore,” Dale said, adding that so many other organizations, including Girls Scouts of the USA and the Boys and Girls Club, have embraced LGBT youth.
”Teaching a young kid that they’re immoral is immoral. [BSA leaders] are living in a time that doesn’t exist anymore, when people didn’t talk about sexuality,” said Dale. ”They’re going against the grain of history.”
Where the organization goes in the future remains to be seen, but activists are optimistic.
Stephenson, who has voiced support for diversity, is expected to take the reins as president of the board for the Boy Scouts in 2014 and has said change must come from within the organization.
With the BSA as one of the last youth organizations to still ban gay members, Wahls believes changing public opinion is on their side.
”Today the question isn’t whether the policy will change,” said Wahls. ”Today the question is when.”