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February 8, 2013

Boy Scouts may end national gay ban

But local groups would be allowed to continue the policy

Dallas--The Boy Scouts of America announced on January 28 that they were considering an end to the national organization’s ban on gay members and leaders, leaving the issue instead in the hands of groups running local troops.

The possibility of changes to the rules was announced in a statement on the “membership policy” page of the group’s website. The statement is attributed to Deron Smith, director of public relations.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” Smith’s statement reads. “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,” it concludes. “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.”

The final decision had been expected at the national board of directors meeting this week, but the Scouts announced February 6 that it would instead be made by their 1,400-member national council in May.

While LGBT organizations were understandably pleased at the announcement, some in the community noted that it was not an all-out victory. Since local sponsors would decide their membership policies, the 70 percent of troops that are sponsored by Mormon or Catholic churches are unlikely to allow gay scouts.

However, in the case of someone like Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian who was booted as the den leader of her son’s Tiger Scouts chapter in Bridgeport, Ohio because of the national policy, it might mean her return to the position. The parents of other scouts in the troop lobbied for her, and a member of the local board resigned over her ouster last year.

President Barack Obama has endorsed the change. “My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life,” he told CBS’ Scott Pelley in an interview on February 3. “The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives, and I think nobody should be barred from that.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, could bar gays and atheists under their constitutional freedom of association. However, in the aftermath of that victory, the organization saw nonprofits and corporations pulling funding from the national group and its local affiliates.

The United Way of Greater Cleveland announced last September that they would no longer be funding the Boy Scouts’ Greater Cleveland Council because of their ban on gay scouts and leaders. United Way took the step after adding sexual orientation to their equal opportunity and diversity policies.

A week earlier, computer giant Intel, the Boy Scouts’ largest corporate funder, said that it would no longer donate to the Scouts.

The Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia lost a sweetheart deal with the city that provided its headquarters for $1 rent each year; the city offered to let the council stay at fair market rate, which would be around $1 million per year for the Beaux Arts building. The matter has been tied up in court for years.

Other councils have lost free use of municipal facilities or funding from groups like the United Way over the national organization’s policy. When some chapters tried to ignore it and allow members regardless of sexual orientation, the national group quashed those efforts.

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