July 29, 2015 at 5:26 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
White House: Boy Scouts took a ‘big step’ by lifting gay ban

Eric Schultz, gay news, Washington Blade

Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Boy Scouts took a “big step forward” by admitting gay leaders. Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Wednesday the Boy Scouts of America took a “big step forward” by lifting its blanket ban on gay leaders and the decision is “consistent” with President Obama’s views.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Schultz expressed support for the change, but said he doesn’t know how the president received the news. The announcement on Monday came from Obama’s former defense secretary Robert Gates, who helped implement “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Under the leadership of Bob Gates, the Boy Scouts of American did take a big step forward on Monday in accepting qualified scout leaders, employees and volunteers regardless of who they love, and this is something that’s consistent with what the president has talked about,” Schultz said. “He’s long believed that the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century, and he thinks this was an important step for them to take.”

LGBT advocates welcomed the change from the Boy Scouts, but also took issue with the organization’s decision to leave in place the ability of religious-chartered organizations to continue to use religious beliefs in selecting adult leaders, which would allow them to continue to reject scoutmasters on the basis of sexual orientation.

Schultz had no comment on the nuance of the policy other than to say Obama believes the change at the Boy Scouts is a positive thing.

“I haven’t talked to the president about this, but I do know that he believes and was encouraged by the significant step they announced this week,” Schultz said.

In 2012, the White House first announced President Obama believes the Boy Scouts should lift its gay ban. Obama himself articulated the view the Boy Scouts should allow gay leaders in a CNN interview on the day of the Super Bowl in 2013.

When the Boy Scouts took action that year to allow children who identify as gay to remain the organization, the White House commended the change, but called for additional action to allow adults to participate as leaders. With the policy change this week, the Boy Scouts has now complied with that vision.

Obama’s view on Boy Scouts policy carries special weight because as President of the United States, he serves as honorary president of the organization.

Also on Wednesday, Schultz said Obama brought up the issue of gay rights privately in meetings during his recent trip to Africa for the African Union Summit in addition to talking about the issue publicly.

“I can assure you the president did raise this privately, and he didn’t pull any punches at the time,” Schultz said. “The president believes that equality is a fundamental pillar not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it strengthens countries.”

Obama spoke in favor of gay rights during a news conference in Kenya, saying “the state should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

In Kenya, same-sex relations are punished with between five and 14 years in prison. As the Blade reported on Sunday, Obama met that day with several Kenyan LGBT rights advocates during a meeting with more than 70 members of Kenyan civil society.

And during his speech before the African Union on Monday, Obama made a veiled reference to LGBT rights, saying all people are equal, have worth and matter regardless of “who they are or who they love.”

Reflecting on those public remarks in African countries, Schultz said “the issue of broader human rights in Africa is one where they’ve made progress, but they clearly have a long way to go.”

“That’s part of the reason why he was so encouraged by his visit,” Schultz added. “He felt that this visit was an opportunity to accomplish the goal of not only of deepening the ties between the United States and Africa, but also raising awareness on these issues. I know that as the president himself said, some countries prefer to not engage and to not try and lift up these issues, even when they might be uncomfortable, but that’s not this president’s approach.”

Asked by the Blade for the reaction when Obama raised gay rights during private meetings, Schultz had no comment.

“I don’t have a detailed readout of the bilateral conversations, but I do know that he raised this and was quite forceful on it,” Schultz said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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