On their honor, leaders of the Boy Scouts of America said they may replace an outright ban on gay scouts and troops with a policy allowing individual councils and troops to set their own membership rules.
A vote was hoped for on Feb. 6, the last day the BSA’s national executive board was meeting in Irving, Texas.
But early on Feb. 6, after two weeks of frenzied lobbying on the issue, the BSA said the outpouring of opinion proves how deeply people care. And that, along with the “complexity of this issue,” led the board to delay a decision so leaders can collect additional perspectives and draft a resolution to be decided not by the board, but by a 1,400 member national council in May.
LGBT civil rights leaders still relishing a year of unprecedented victories heralded news that the iconic youth group might lift the ban, but showed disappointment with the delay.
“Every day that the Boy Scouts of America delay action is another day that discrimination prevails,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Now is the time for action. Young Americans, gay and straight, are hurt by the inaction associated with (Feb. 6’s) news.”
Jennifer Tyrrell, the lesbian mother of a Cub Scout who launched a national petition drive after she was ousted as a troop leader, said, “A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today.”
On the other side of the issue, ultra-conservatives said Scouting seemed to be caving into liberal bullies, and they seemed buoyed by the delay.
The BSA, in the past, has pointed to the Scout Oath and Scout Law in defense of its ban. With the oath, Scouts pledge, “On my honor I will do my best/To do my duty to God and my country/and to obey the Scout Law;/To help other people at all times;/To keep myself physically strong,/mentally awake, and morally straight.” The organization has long interpreted “morally straight” to mean heterosexual.
Pressure to overturn the ban has come, in waves, for more than two decades.
In a landmark fight, Lambda Legal, on behalf of Eagle Scout James Dale, sued the BSA and a Scouting Council in New Jersey after the Scouts barred Dale from serving as an assistant troop leader because he is gay. Lambda argued Dale’s case all the way to the Supreme Court, which, in 2000, issued a 5-4 decision that the BSA is a private group with a constitutional right of expressive association that allows it to exclude gay people.
After the ruling, a number of public institutions and other organizations severed relations with the Scouts citing conflict with their non-discrimination policies.
In the past year, several petition drives on Change.org, including the one by Tyrrell, urged the Scouts to overturn the ban and called on political and corporate partners to withdraw support from the group. More than 1.4 million people petitioned the Boy Scouts in the past year.
Most recently, a drive collected more than 100,000 signatures protesting the National Geographic Channel’s decision to proceed with a TV show done in partnership with the BSA. Petitioners asked how Scouting can be the in-thing with an antiquated, biased policy that 55 percent of Americans oppose.
In late January, the BSA said it was “discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. 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.”
With the board meeting set for early February, there was anticipation change would come quickly.
Proponents and opponents of the ban organized, bombarding the BSA’s service desk and its social media accounts with calls, texts and posts.
The right-wing Family Research Council urged its members to protest, saying that the BSA, until now, has withstood the “constant bullying by those who work to bring down all that the millions of dedicated Scouts and Scout leaders stand for.”
The American Family Association, in its call to action, said, “If the BSA departs from its policies on allowing homosexual scoutmasters and boys in the program, it will destroy the legitimacy and the security of this iconic institution.”
Meanwhile, opponents of the ban predicted positives for the BSA with a policy change.
GLAAD president Herndon Graddick said, “Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect.”
Zach Wahls, the Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality who is the keynote speaker at a Fair Wisconsin Education Fund event Feb. 9, criticized the delay but also said lifting the ban would be “an incredible step forward in the right direction.”
Others opposed to the ban noted that the Girl Scouts of America and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Our fight will continue,” Tyrrell pledged, on her honor.