January 28, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Boy Scouts considering dropping gay ban
Zach Walls, gay news, Washington Blade, Boy Scouts of America

Zach Wahls delivers petitions to lift a ban on gay scouts to the national Boy Scouts of America conference in Orlando last year. (Photo courtesy of Change.org)

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED HERE

The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement on Monday saying the organization is considering dropping its national policy banning gay scouts and scout troop leaders.

But the statement, posted on the Boy Scouts’ website, says such a change would allow the religious, civic and educational organizations that are chartered to operate scouting units throughout the country to make the final decision on whether or not to accept gays.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” the statement says.

“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,” says the statement.

“BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” it says.

NBC News, which reported that BSA was considering lifting its gay ban prior to the release of the statement, also reported that the organization was expected to approve the changes at a board of directors meeting within the next week.

Janelle Moritz, a public relations representative for the Boy Scouts of America, told the Blade she could not confirm the NBC report about the timing of a board meeting or what the board would decide. She said BSA would not comment on the matter beyond what it said in its statement, which doesn’t say when the group will decide on the issue.

“Over 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by chartered organizations,” a BSA website posting says. “Of these, 64.9 percent of all units are chartered to faith based organizations, 22.7 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations, and 7.9 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations,” it says.

It says the chartered organizations are responsible for providing meeting facilities, providing “quality leadership for the scouting unit,” and appointing a representative to coordinate unit operations

A list of BSA chartered organizations posted on its website shows a wide range of religious and civic groups that are likely to differ on whether or not to admit gay scouts and scout leaders.

Among them are the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “Baptist Churches,” which traditionally have condemned homosexuality. Others, however, include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, and Lutheran churches, which have had more accepting policies toward LGBT people.

Civic groups listed on the BSA website as chartered organizations include local Chambers of Commerce, Lions and Rotary clubs, American Legion organizations, Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, YMCA groups, “non-profit agencies,” and “home owners” groups.

The BSA’s statement saying it is considering removing its national policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders comes seven months after the BSA announced it had conducted a two-year review of the ban and decided to leave it in place.

Monday’s announcement also comes after several prominent corporations, including United Parcel Service and Intel Corporation, withdrew as BSA financial sponsors, saying the gay ban violated their corporate polices of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Others opposing the Boy Scouts ban on gays have organized online petition drives that have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures calling on the BSA to drop its gay ban.

Among those drawing attention to efforts to end the ban is Iowa Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, who is straight but has spoken publically about his two lesbian moms.

Sharon Brackett, co-founder and board chair of the statewide transgender advocacy organization Gender Rights Maryland, said she experienced firsthand how at least some Boy Scout troops and the chartered organizations that operate them are LGBT supportive

Brackett said she served as a scout master for the local Boy Scout troop in Savage, Md., where her sons were members, before she transitioned from male to female. She said after taking a break during her transition period, the troop and a local Methodist church that served as the chartered organization, welcomed her back once she completed her gender transition.

“My experience has been positive,” she said, noting that women have long served as Boy Scout troop leaders and officials in the chartered organization covering her area had no problem with her coming back.

Brackett said she supports the proposed change by the BSA to leave it up to the chartered organizations to decide whether gay scouts or troops can be admitted. At least in Maryland, she said, there are enough local troops and chartered organizations to choose from that would result in gay youth finding one that will be welcoming.

“Having that choice is the best next step for us at this time,” she said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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