Boy Scouts to consider ending national gay ban

Leaders of the Boy Scouts of America are discussing the possibility of lifting the organization’s longstanding ban on gay members and leaders, NBC News reported today.

Boy Scouts.jpegOnly seven months after the BSA reaffirmed its ban on out gay members and leaders, the organization’s board of directors is considering lifting the national ban in order to allow local sponsoring organizations to decide whether to permit gay members.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.” 

According to Smith, the new policy, if adopted, would not “require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” As such, local charters could still choose to ban gay members.

In July, the 102-year-old organization upheld its longstanding exclusionary policy after the recommendation of an 11-member committee that studied the issue for two years. At the time, Smith said the BSA’s decision to uphold the ban was based largely on support from parents and is “absolutely the best policy for the organization.”

Although a victory is not yet definite, Monday’s news that the BSA would reconsider the ban was welcomed by advocates who have been pressuring the organization since July.

“This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,” said Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, in a statement. An Eagle Scout and son of lesbian mothers, Wahls delivered almost 300,000 signatures to the BSA’s annual convention last year urging an end to the ban.

“We look forward to working with BSA Councils and chartering organizations across the country to end the exclusion of our gay brothers in Scouting, as well as the gay and lesbian leaders who serve the organizations so well,” Wahls said.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Change.org have been at the forefront of the fight against the BSA’s gay ban, with more than 1 million people signing onto Change.org petitions that have called for an end to the BSA’s discriminatory policy. A number of corporate supports have ceased donations to the BSA, including UPS and Intel because of the organization’s gay ban. 

According to NBC News, the Human Rights Campaign planned to downgrade its nondiscrimination ratings for corporations that continued to make financial donations to the BSA.

“The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement. “Our nation and its leaders respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, and it’s time the Boy Scouts echo those values.”

Pressure on the BSA has come from politicians as well, with both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticizing the BSA’s decision in August to uphold the gay ban.

“The President believes the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century. He also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on basis of sexual orientation,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye told Metro Weekly last August.

The White House has not yet commented on today’s news. At Monday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he was not aware of breaking reports that the BSA would consider ending its ban on gay members and leaders.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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