Attorney General Eric Holder took aim at the Boy Scouts of America’s remaining ban on gay Scout leaders during an appearance at an LGBT fundraiser Tuesday evening.
“[T]he continuation of a policy that discriminates against gay adult leaders – by an iconic American institution – only preserves and perpetuates the worst kind of stereotypes,” Holder said to a sold-out Lambda Legal reception in Washington, marking the first time the nation’s first African-American attorney general has addressed the Boy Scouts’ existing exclusionary policy.
Holder’s remarks come a little over a year after the 104-year-old organization voted to end their longstanding ban on gay youth. In May 2013, more than 61 percent of the 1,400 members of the BSA’s 270 councils voted to lift the ban on gay youth, which was lifted in January. Despite that major step forward, coming after the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the BSA could prohibit gay people from serving in a case filed by Lambda Legal, a ban remains in place for gay members over the age of 18.
“Like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it’s a relic of an age of prejudice and insufficient understanding,” Holder continued. “Today, courageous lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals routinely put their lives on the line as members of America’s armed services. They inspire us, they protect us, and they defend us. And if these men and women are fit for military service, then surely they are fit to mentor, to teach, and to serve as role models for the leaders of future generations.”
Last month, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served with Holder in President Obama’s cabinet and was involved in the repeal of DADT, became the BSA’s 35th president. During remarks at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Gates said that he believes gay adults should be able to serve in the Boy Scouts.
“In all candor, I would have supported going further, as I did in opening the way for gays to serve in CIA and in the military,” Gates said of the decision to end the ban on gay youth. “That said, I accept the vote of a year ago, and I strongly support it. And, in its implementation, Scouting must provide a welcoming and safe environment for gay youth, a place where they can benefit from Scouting and not face bullying or disrespect. But, I also believe strongly that we must put this issue behind us and move forward, refocusing our energies and our passion on making Scouting an even bigger, better program for kids.”
Despite his personal support for a BSA policy that is fully inclusive, Gates said that to try to reopen “the membership issue” would irreparably fracture and perhaps provoke a formal, permanent split of the Boy Scouts. “We must always put the kids and their interests first,” Gates said. “Thus, during my time as president, I will oppose any effort to reopen this issue.”
But while Gates may wish to avoid addressing the existing ban on gay Scout leaders, the remarks from his former colleague and the nation’s top lawyer breaths new life into the issue.
“The Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy only serves to reinforce the horrible message LGBT youth hear every day: you’re not good enough,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The Boy Scouts believe that, once you turn 18, you should be banished from the proud tradition of Scouting if you’re gay. Tonight, Attorney General Holder is yet again demonstrating his unwavering commitment to equality for LGBT people, and we are grateful that he has added his voice to the chorus of Americans who condemn the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy. Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans.”
During remarks that noted many of the achievements for LGBT equality secured over the past several years, Holder said such progress is “not enough until the circle of opportunity and equality is so wide – and so accessible – that the American Dream is available to everyone with the heart to dream it.”
“We come together tonight at an important juncture – in a moment defined by challenge, consequence, and great opportunity,” Holder said. “Remarkable achievements stretch behind us. Important, life-changing work lies ahead. And I want the American people to know that this Administration – and this Department of Justice and this Attorney General – will never be content to be bystanders to the march of history. We will march, we will fight, and we will work alongside you to help shape it.”
Read Holder’s full remarks on the following page.