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Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

Scouts in Canada and the UK.
Additional author's comments.

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Scouts Canada:

Scouts Canada is the national Scouting organization in Canada which corresponds to the Boy Scout in the U.S. 

Canada has a relatively gay-positive society. Both opposite-sex and same-sex loving committed couples can marry. Its largest Protestant religious groups are the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada. They are quite liberal denominations and have taken strong positions opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

On the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to persons with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," which appears to correspond to what most other groups refer to as lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs). §2358 of the Catechism states that they:

"... must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

However, the Catholic Church regards certain types of employment discrimination against LGBs to be a just form of discrimination. This would probably include volunteer LGB scout masters.

The "Duty of Care" document of Scouts Canada's Code of Conduct for Adults states:

"5: Discrimination: Scouting is a world wide, multi cultural movement. We welcome people to membership regardless of gender, race, culture, religious belief, sexual orientation or economic circumstances. Youth members are strongly influenced by the behaviour of adults. We need to be sensitive to the traditions and beliefs of all people and to avoid words or actions which 'put down' anybody." 2

This document is being replaced by a "Code of Conduct" on 2012-JUL-01. The sentence "Scouts will treat all people fairly and with respect and dignity." was reworded "I will treat all people fairly and with respect and dignity."3

Scouts Canada require only that its members fall within certain age limits and take the Scout Promise. This does not contain a phrases such as in the BSA's oath to be "morally straight" which the BAS interprets as prohibiting gays. The Scout Promise in Canada is:

"On my honour
I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and the Queen
To help other people at all times,
And to carry out the spirit of the Scout Law.
" 4

Potential Scout leaders are not asked to reveal their sexual orientation. Leaders who are determined to be gay or bisexual are not expelled. Individual Scouts who are bisexual or gay are also not expelled.

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Scouts in the UK:

The Scout Association in the UK is

"... the largest mixed volunteer-led organisation for young people in the UK. [with] ... over half a million members including young people aged 6-25 and adult volunteers." 5

They accept adults and youth of all sexual orientations as members. In an article titled: "Gay adults in Scouting" they state:

"It's OK to be an adult in Scouting and be gay! Throughout the Association there are adults in Scouting who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Some are open about their sexual orientation others not, either way it is a personal choice which is totally acceptable.

A leader’s sexual orientation has no bearing on their suitability to fulfil a role in Scouting. Whatever role an adult chooses to take in
Scouting, they must always act in accordance with the Associations Policies and Rules. ..."

"Equal Opportunities Policy:

The Scout Association has, for many years, had an Equal Opportunities Policy. This policy sets out the Scout Association’s view on such matters including the acceptance and support of being gay and having an adult role in Scouting.

'There is no basis on which any volunteer offering his or her services in any capacity can be refused an appointment in, or Membership of, the Movement on the grounds of heterosexual or homosexual orientation. Homosexuality has been perceived as incompatible with Scouting by some people (both within and outside The Scout Association) on the basis of a presumed link between homosexuality and paedophilia. This perception has been used to deny homosexual people the chance to work with young people as Scout Leaders. There is no link between homosexuality and paedophilia, and therefore there is no justification for restricting Membership on this basis.'

The Scout Association guidelines are clear, nonnegotiable and support individual members regardless of their sexual orientation." 6

In an article titled: "It's OK to be gay and a scout! Advice for young people," The Association first discusses the process of a young  person "coming out" to family and friends. They then state their Association's policy towards gay members:

"The Scout Association has an equal opportunities policy and as it says, has no objection to the sexual orientation of any of its members.
Therefore you do not have to leave Scouting if you are gay.

The Scout Association says:

No young person should receive less favourable treatment on the basis of, nor suffer disadvantage by reason of:

  • class;
  • ethnic origin, nationality (or statelessness)
  • race;
  • gender;
  • marital or sexual status;
  • mental or physical ability;
  • political or religious belief.

All Members of the Movement should seek to practice that equality, especially in promoting access to Scouting for young people in all parts of society. You are not alone, many people throughout the Scout Association are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. It is an individual’s choice how public they wish to be about their sexual orientation."

Their article concludes with a glossary of terms. 7

Finally, they have an essay for members who are approached by another gay member who "comes out" to them. They recommend being positive, not negative, listening, being sympathetic, and refraining from casting judgments. 8

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Contacting the Boy Scouts of America:

If you feel strongly, one way or the other, about the policies of the BSA towards religious and sexual minorities, you might want to write a letter to the BSA at:

Personnel Services,
Public Relations department,
Boy Scouts of America,
1325 W. Walnut Lane, 
Irving, TX, 75061. 

The main BSA telephone number is 972-580-2000. The PR department's number is 972-580-2263. 1

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Author's personal comments. (Another bias alert):

There appear to be three sources of conflict concerning the BSA's membership criteria: intolerance based on religious belief, intolerance of persons with a minority sexual orientation, and intolerance of females. If the BSA is to fulfill its role to provide a service to all youth, then it would need to reconsider these policies. It did create a secret committee in 2010 to study the "gay" issue. It delivered its unanimous decision in 2012-JUL. They recommended that the BSA continue its policies of discrimination against gays without modification.

Author's comments:

  • We live in a multi-faith culture in which some religions and religious followers devoutly believe in no god; some believe in one god, some believe in a Trinity, some in one goddess, some in a pair of deities, some in multiple gods and goddesses. Some faith groups teach the existence of a God with a defined personality who is actively involved in every human life; others teach that God is an impersonal force; others teach that no God exists at all; others have no teaching about God. It seems to this writer that it is unethical to claim to offer to all the youth of the U.S. membership in the BSA, with all its rights, privileges, opportunities, and obligations, and then withdraw the offer from some boys unless they are first willing to violate their personal religious beliefs. Alcoholic Anonymous has met the identical problem and solved it by substituting the term "higher power" for God. If the BSA adopted this terminology, then Christians and other Trinitarians would give up nothing; they could interpret the term as referring to their concept of a Trinity. Monotheists could believe that it refers to their single, indivisible God; Polytheists could interpret the term as referring to their pantheon of deities. Atheists could interpret the "higher power" as the BSA itself, the concept of democracy, American society, or some other entity or principle.

  • In its goal to provide a service to all of the youth of the U.S., the BSA will have to consider the approximately 5% of its Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scout and Eagle Scout members who may not be aware of their sexual orientation, but who will eventually discover that they are gay. Homosexuals are not a group "out there." They are not an insidious force trying to destroy the organization. They are 1 in every 20 members who are already inside the organization. IMHO, the BSA needs to provide both the 5% minority and the 95% majority with good adult role models, tools to affirm their self-worth, and the ability to understand the roots and evil nature of homophobia, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance

If the BSA maintains its current policies, they will probably lose units and troops in some or most mainline and liberal Christian denominations. However, if they offer gays and lesbians equal access to their programs, then the BSA will probably lose many more members from various conservative religious groups. In each case, they risk the creation of a parallel Boy Scouts organization.

We expect that the BSA will eventually adopt a local option over sexual orientation, requiring a belief in God and admission of girls. This would allow the national organization to take a neutral stance on both matters, but allow religiously-sponsored troops to continue to teach belief in God, exclude Agnostics, Atheists, etc., promote homophobia and/or hatred of gays and lesbians, and exclude girls if they wish. 

In meeting the challenges of a multi-faith society which is increasingly gay-positive, the BSA might consider following the lead of Scouts Canada and The Scouting Association in the UK. We hope that the BSA will be able to make the transition to a prejudice-free organization without a schism within the U.S. Scouting movement. They could probably receive lots of assistance from the Unitarian Universalist Association and other liberal, progressive, and mainline faith groups, many of which have already faced and resolved similar conflicts.

Full disclosure: The author was once a Boy Scout in Canada and enjoyed the experience immensely. Fortunately, he was a Christian at the time and was thus able to recite the Scout Promise honestly. His conversion to Agnosticism came during his later teen years, shortly after he left the Scout movement. Otherwise he would have been forced to choose between exiting the organization or lying. Through Scouting, he learned about religious diversity, and developed an interest in religious tolerance that was one of the influences that led to the creation of this website. He is a heterosexual, an Agnostic, and a Unitarian Universalist.

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Related essays on this site:

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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.

  1. "Scouts NewEngland [sic] Web Site," Telephone & Address List, at: http://sne.tripod.com/
  2. "Section 5, Duty of Care. Code of conduct for adults," Scouts Canada, 2001-FEB, at: http://www.scoutscan.com/
  3. "Child and youth safety update," Scouts Canada, 2012-JUN, at: http://www.scouts.ca/
  4. "Scouts Canada offers five challenging programs," at: http://www.scouts.ca/
  5. "About us," The Scout Association," at: http://scouts.org.uk/
  6. "Being gay with an adult role in Scouting," The Scout Association," at: http://www.scoutbase.org.uk/
  7. "It's OK to be gay and a scout! Advice for young people," The Scout Association," at: http://www.scoutbase.org.uk/
  8. "Suppoting a young person who is gay and in scouting," The Scout Association," at: http://www.scoutbase.org.uk/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2012, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Originally published on 1999-AUG-9 
Latest updated: 2012-JUL-20
Author: B.A. Robinson
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