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May 31, 2013

Gay Boy Scouts will be allowed

Until they turn 18. Adult leaders will still be barred

Grapevine, Texas--As of January 1, gay boys and young men will be allowed in the Boy Scouts of America--until they turn 18.

The 1,400-member National Council voted on May 23 to approve the change in the policy, with just over 60 percent of the council voting in favor of the change. After the vote, the three highest members of the organization, along with some board members, held a press conference and released a statement that synthesized the comments made during the press conference.

In the months leading up to the vote, the Boy Scouts surveyed opinions regarding its current policy, whether it should be changed to one in which individual councils or sponsoring organizations could decide on membership, or to lift the restriction on gay scouts. Youth, parents, councils, chartering organizations and donors and sponsors were surveyed. In the case of parents and youth, those in and out of scouting were asked their opinions, with Harris Interactive surveying youth and North Star Opinion Research interviewing parents of boys under 18 years old.

Among youth, the majority both in and out of the Boy Scouts opposed the current membership policy, and a majority of scouts opposed the idea of allowing different chapters to decide their own policies.

The information released by the Boy Scouts shows that three years ago, 48 percent of parents supported the no-gays membership policy, while 29 percent opposed it. In the most recent polls, however, 45 percent opposed it, while only 42 percent favor it. Even specifically among parents of Scouts, support dropped from 57 percent to 48 percent.

The board left the Mormon church out of its figures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Boy Scouts’ largest chartering organization. It issued a statement in support of allowing gay youth to participate in scouting.

The Boy Scouts also attempted to head off right-wing fear-mongering about the possibility of either sexual abuse or gay scouts leading their peers into being gay by including a panel of “leading experts in the field of youth protection and child sexual abuse prevention that the BSA has consulted in the past in formatting the BSA’s Youth Protection policies and curriculum.” They all agreed 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,” and, “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.”

“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in the Scouting’s history, the approximately 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone,” the statement reads. “The resolution also reinforces that scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue,” it continues. “As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter. While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens.”

The change drew outcry from both sides of the debate. While LGBT advocates overall approved of the change as a positive step forward, they noted that it was hypocritical to say that everything is okay until someone turns 18, then boot them out.

“The Boy Scouts of America is brazenly continuing to discriminate,” said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “They cannot escape the moral condemnation of fair-minded people simply because they’ve set an age limit on when their discrimination begins.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey noted, “This vote marks a monumental step forward for the Boy Scouts of America. We are thrilled for the gay youth who will no longer be turned away from scouting simply because of who they are. This milestone has been years in the making, and we thank all those who have fought so hard to end this grave injustice against our young people.”

She notes that there is still discrimination against gay adults in scouting, urged the organization to lift that ban as well.

The reaction of LGBT organizations, however, was fawning compared to that of anti-gay groups like the Family Research Council. Those organizations, including a newly-minted group called On My Honor, are calling for a new scouting organization to be founded that can freely discriminate against whoever they choose.

One of the prime factors behind the change in the policy is likely the decrease in corporate, foundational and governmental support for the organization following the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that, as a private organization, they could bar LGBT and atheist members.

Since then, United Way chapters in cities across the country, including Cleveland, have removed the Scouts from their office giving programs. Some towns have canceled sweetheart leases that Scouts had on city property, like the Beaux Arts headquarters for the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia, which the city leased to them for $1 a year; market rate would be $500,000.

James Dale, the former Eagle Scout who lost in that 2000 ruling, criticized the policy change, saying that the Boy Scouts ware sending mixed messages to children.

“It sends a very convoluted, mixed message to gay kids. It says that being gay is a youthful indiscretion, and that there’s no future for you,” he told the Newark Star-Ledger’s Kathleen O’Brien. Kids would be happy in scouting, “knowing they’ll eventually be rejected.”

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