The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reconsiders ban on gay youths
Executive Committee proposes new,
more inclusive membership rules.
The proposed national policy:
During early 2013, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) conducted a major review of its membership standards. They conducted extensive surveys of their major stakeholders. The main question that they had to answer was whether the BSA should be open to all male youths of good character, (and to all female youths aged 13 or 14 to 21 in Venturing who are of good character) or only to youths of good character who have a heterosexual orientation. Under the current policy, when they discovered that a youth member had engaged in a criminal act or in acts showing bad character, the organization made every effort to support and help the individual. However, if they discovered that a youth member had a homosexual or bisexual orientation, the individual was expelled with all possible speed.
In the executive summary of their proposed new standards, they wrote about the challenge of changing their long-standing membership criteria:
"Scouting's review confirmed that this remains among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today. Even with the wide range of input, it is extremely difficult to accurately quantify the potential impact of maintaining or changing the current policy. While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting. 1
The BSA's problem is complicated by a number of factors:
- A a major generational divide currently exists in the U.S. concerning the LGBT community. Many older adults and members of conservative faith groups tend to look on homosexual behavior and even homosexual orientation itself as immoral and disordered. Some even feel that same-gender sexual behavior by adults is should be criminalized. Younger adults and youth currently represent the first generations in which most are aware of having an openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual friend or family member. Many, perhaps most, agree with professional mental health organizations that all three sexual orientations -- heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual -- are normal, natural, not not chosen, and fixed in adulthood.
The country is experiencing a very high rate of change in public opinion concerning the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) community. One manifestation of this change is seen in the very rapidly growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. The rate of change is much greater than earlier civil rights movements, such as the debate over allowing women to vote, and debate over allowing interracial couples to marry.
The Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS church & the Mormons) and evangelical denominations play a major role in the BSA. These faith groups believe that persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation should be discriminated against in various ways. If the BSA were to move too rapidly towards accepting youth and scout leaders of all sexual orientation as members, it could trigger a schism within the organization.
The BSA organized eight separate study groups of youths, scouts, parents of scouts, scout leaders, local councils, the national council, chartered organizations, financial & fundraising specialists, and legal specialists. As one would expect, they found many divisions of opinion and much lack of consensus. They found one matter over which "overwhelming majorities" strongly agreed -- that:
"... it would be unacceptable to deny an openly gay Scout an Eagle Scout Award solely because of his sexual orientation."
The BSA report states that responses from the BSA's largest chartered organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was not included in the totals of the chartered organizations study group. They gave no reason for this exclusion.
They also consulted with four leading experts in the fields of youth protection and child sexual abuse protection. All four reached a consensus that:
- "The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children."
In regard to role modeling: "Most of the research on the effect on children of associating with self-identified homosexual adults has been done about homosexual parents. The clear conclusion from this research is that there appear to be no effects on children's adjustment, mental health or sexual orientation." 1
The BSA also contacted what they described as: "30 national youth-serving, government, foundation, and community organizations." They found that 28 are opposed to the current BSA policy, one is slightly opposed to the policy, and one supports the current policy.
The BSA Executive Committee's proposed resolution to change BSA membership standards:
The main proposed change is that:
"no youth can be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone, while maintaining the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America." 2
Thus, it would seem that:
- Youths who are known to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual will be allowed to join the BSA.
- Youths who are members of the BSA and are found to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation will be allowed to remain members, but would be expelled on their 18th birthday when they become an adult.
- Adults who are known to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual will be excluded from joining the BSA.
- Adults who are members of the BSA and are later found to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation will be expelled from the BSA.
- Whether a youth member of the BSA who engages in same-gender sexual behavior will be automatically ejected from the organization is not specifically addressed by the resolution.
The BSA has not addressed the other policy that excludes potential members. This is the requirement that only theists -- persons believing in the existence of a God -- may join. However, they have stated that the BSA's:
"... vision is to serve every eligible youth in America..." 3
So, perhaps the BSA may consider changing this religiously discriminatory practice at some future time.
The following resolution will be voted upon by about 1,400 delegates who form the Boy Scouts National Council at their National Annual Meeting during 2013-MAY-22 to 24:
"Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.
Also, the resolution states that the Boy Scouts of America will maintain its current membership policy for all adult leaders." 4
The resolution uses the term "sexual orientation." It is the preferred term by most members of the LGBT community, therapists, human sexuality researchers, liberal and progressive faith groups, secularists, etc. because it implies that sexual attraction to members of the same sex is generally fixed in adulthood and not changeable. The resolution also uses the term "sexual ... preference" which is the preferred term by many religious conservatives because it agrees with their beliefs that everyone is heterosexual, that some people choose to engage in same-gender sexual behavior, and that lesbians and gays can switch back to heterosexual relationships at any time. Here, the BSA is simply acknowledging both popular belief systems.
If passed, the new policy would become effective on 2014-JAN-01.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Membership Standards Executive Summary," BSA, 2013, month and date unknown, at http://www.scouting.org
Wayne Perry, "A letter to national voting members," BSA, 2013-APR-19, at: http://www.scouting.org/
Item 3, "Frequently Asked Questions," BSA, 2013, month and date unknown, at: http://www.scouting.org/
Item 2, "Frequently Asked Questions," BSA, 2013, month and date unknown, at: http://www.scouting.org/
Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Original posting: 2013-APR-19
Latest updated: 2013-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson