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Religious Tolerance logo

About the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) policy of
discriminating against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals


BSA considers, but rejects, transferring its anti-gay
national discriminatory policies to the local level

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2013-JAN-28: The BSA reconsidered its national ban on gays in the organization by considering, and later rejecting, a local option:

The BSA considered a new membership policy. It would allow chartered organizations that sponsor boy scout troops to set their own membership policies. They would individually decide whether to allow gay youths and adult scout leaders to become members and to remain members. This would allow the agencies that sponsor boy scout troops to harmonize their own policies towards gays with their "mission, principles or religious beliefs." The local option policy would allow the troops sponsored by conservative religious groups to have the religious liberty to continue to oppress and denigrate gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, even as it allowed liberal and progressive religious groups the religious freedom to accept gays and lesbians into their troops.

Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the BSA said that:

"For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

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 members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs." 1,2

He also confirmed that the BSA is not reconsidering its other main form of discrimination: the exclusion of Agnostics, Atheists and other non-theists from the BSA. He said that the group continues to view "Duty to God" as one of its basic principles. 3

There are over 300 local councils in the U.S. each serving troops in its geographical area. 4 Some Boy Scout troops are sponsored by mainline, liberal, and progressive religious congregations or secular groups who are inclusive of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT). They would probably prefer to be able welcome boys of all sexual orientations and gender identities into their troops. However, many more troops are sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS or Mormon Church), Roman Catholic, or evangelical congregations that actively advocate various forms of discrimination against LGBTs. Many of them would want to continue the BSA tradition that has lasted over a century -- during the entire history of the BSA -- by continuing to exclude LGBTs at all levels in the organization. By doing so, they risk causing a rapid loss of membership in their own congregations, particularly among older teens and young adults who regard their exclusions of lesbians, gays and bisexuals as a form of bigotry comparable to sexism, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred and prejudice.

Scouts for Equality reports that, as of the end of 2013-JAN, 11 councils, serving over 261,645 scouts -- about 10% of the total membership -- have registered their opposition to the gay exclusion policies. Two are in California, two are in the Lake Michigan area and seven are in the North East. 5

This could have been a win-win situation both for groups who advocate inclusion and those who promote exclusion; both would have the religious freedom to choose their policies independently of the national organization. However, it was ultimately rejected by the BSA Executive Committee.

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Related section:

After having abandoned the local option plan, the BSA completed a massive polling of its stakeholders. During 2013-APR, the Executive Committee of the BSA considered a new national policy. It would allow gay youth to join and remain in the BSA, while refusing membership and expel any adult gay leaders and all non-theists. Once they reached adulthood at the age of 18, they would be expelled. More details.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Original posting: 2013-JAN-28
Latest updated: 2013-APR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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