US & World

Boy Scouts of America could end anti-gay policy in part

A badge on the arm of Temple Beth Hillel Troop 36 scoutmaster Larry Turner.
A badge on the arm of Temple Beth Hillel Troop 36 scoutmaster Larry Turner.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is proposing to lift a long-standing ban against gays—but only for scouts under age 18 and not for scoutmasters or adult leaders.  

The revamped policy will be presented for a vote by 1,400 members of the BSA's National Council at a meeting in Texas on May 20. 

The key part of the resolution says no youth may be denied membership in the Scouts "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." A ban would continue on leadership roles for adults who are openly gay or lesbian.

The BSA has estimated that eliminating the ban on gays entirely could prompt as many as 350,000 scouts to leave the organization. Membership now stands at about 3.6 million.

Gay-rights groups, which had demanded an end to the ban, criticized the partial proposal as inadequate.

"Until every parent and young person have the same opportunity to serve, the Boy Scouts will continue to see a decline in both membership and donations," said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay-rights watchdog group GLAAD.

Progress but incomplete

Retired Rabbi Jim Kaufman helped Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village to adopt a "charter of inclusion" that allowed gay scouts and troops leaders despite the national ban. He said the proposed policy change represents some progress.

“I think that’s a better step forward than just saying, 'We’ll let local people do what they want,'” said Kaufman.

But Kaufman says he’d like to see other clergy members push the national group to lift the ban entirely.

“If synagogues specifically would join together and someone would organize them to send letters to the Boy Scouts of America saying, 'If you lift the ban now on adults, too, we’ll have a troop in our place,' I think (it) would have an effect,” said Kaufman.  

The Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council has launched an online petition in support of the ban. Some Scout sponsor groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, want the century-old organization to keep the ban in place.

Change prompted by survey

On Friday, the BSA said it changed course in part because of surveys sent out starting in February to about 1 million members of the Scouting community.

The review, said a BSA statement, "created an outpouring of feedback" from 200,000 respondents, some supporting the exclusion policy and others favoring a change.

"While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting," the statement said.

As a result, the BSA's Executive Committee drafted the compromise resolution.

"The proposed 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 statement said.

The BSA described its survey as "the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history."