Secret committee affirms Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay ban

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Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, an opponent of the Boy scouts of America’s ban on gay members and leaders. Wahls has two lesbian moms. –Photo: GLAAD

A confidential committee spent two years reviewing the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay members and leaders before affirming the policy in mid-July.

“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” BSA chief executive Bob Mazzuca stated. “We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

Critics of the decision included editorial writers, educators, parents, petitioners and politicians.

“By standing behind this ban, the Boy Scouts of America are contributing to a climate that promotes the bullying of gay young people and putting parents in a place where they are forced to explain to their children why some scouts and hard-working scout leaders are not welcomed in the organization,” said Herndon Graddick of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Jeremy Pittman, deputy field director for the Human Rights Campaign and an Eagle Scout, asked, “How can the BSA possibly think lessons of division and intolerance are better than lessons of friendship and kindness?”

Another Eagle Scout, Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper, said, the “decision to continue to exclude gays from membership is extremely disappointing and sends the message that gay youth are not fit to serve God and country. This is absolutely the wrong policy for the Boy Scouts.”

The BSA has long maintained that its ban on “open or avowed” gays, as well as its bans against agnostics and atheists, is necessary to promote the Scout Oath and Law.

In 1991, the BSA put in force a policy that stated, “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”

The BSA thus “believes that a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law.”

The BSA then adopted a policy in 1993 that stated, “We do not allow for the registration of avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders of the BSA.”

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the gay ban. The Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the national organization was exempt from laws that bar anti-gay discrimination because it is a private entity.

William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, said the BSA had a right to express its views against lesbians and gays. The ruling fueled a nationwide campaign against the BSA. If it wanted to be considered a private organization, the BSA should not receive public support in the form of government rent subsidies, free meeting space and financial aid.

That campaign continues, but the intensity diminished in the years after the Supreme Court decision.

The BSA, still holding to the ban, adopted a new policy in 2004 that read, in part, “Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homo- sexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.”

Earlier this year, the ban was applied not to an older boy or man but to a woman – the lesbian mom of a 7-year-old Cub Scout.

The BSA removed Jennifer Tyrrell as den leader of a pack in Bridgeport, Ohio. She responded with a petition drive for reinstatement and repeal of the ban that captured national attention. The petition drew more than 300,000 signatories, celebrity endorsements and high-profile support from two BSA executive board members.

Tyrrell delivered the petition to the BSA headquarters in Dallas on July 18.

The day before, the BSA disclosed that an 11-member secret committee was formed in 2010 to review the ban and recently concluded that it is the best policy for the 102-year-old group.

Still, Tyrrell said, “We are going to stand strong, and we won’t rest until the Boy Scouts of America recognizes that their current policy only punishes families, punishes troops and wrongfully teaches our children that discrimination and bigotry are acceptable.”

Another activist, Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout whose moms are lesbian, also is petitioning the BSA for reform.

Wahls said he planned to attend the 100th anniversary celebration for the Eagle Scouts in Michigan July 30-Aug. 4 and rally opposition to the ban.

“Secret committees do not speak for 3 million scouts,” Wahls said. “Scouts are taught from day one to be trustworthy and to value integrity. There is nothing trustworthy about an unelected and unaccountable secret committee refusing to release an official report about such a sweeping decision affecting millions of people.”