In a deeply controversial move, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its outright ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees.
On Monday, the Boy Scouts of America, an organization whose stated mission is to prepare youth for life and leadership, finally lifted its outright ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees. Ending a deeply controversial policy that has divided the membership of its 105-year-old Texas-based organization for far too long, the 2.5 million members of the organization are now at less risk of being discriminated.
The policy, which takes place effective immediately, arrives three years after the organization removed its policy prohibiting gay youth from taking part. However, while the organization removed that prohibition, the local Boy Scout units chartered by religious organizations were still permitted to exclude gay adults from volunteering as den leaders, scoutmasters or camp counselors.
Amid declining membership and the threat of litigation, the organization decided to implement the latest initiative. It also addressed concerns of religious institutions that account for about 70% of the 100,000-plus Boy Scout units nationwide.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest of all Boy Scout sponsors, said in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the move and said the Mormons’ “century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.”
In contrast, a number of major corporate sponsors, such as Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT.N) and Intel Corp. (INTC.O) have dropped their support for the Boy Scouts because of policies they considered discriminatory.
79% of members of the National Executive Board present supported the new resolution, reports the Boy Scouts. The organization’s executive committee had unanimously recommended adoption of the new policy on July 13, citing a “sea change in the law with respect to gay rights.”
The Boy Scouts’ president, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, called for the change in May, saying continuation of the blanket ban on gay Scout leaders was “unsustainable.”
Now that the policy has passed, Gates has stressed that the new policy enables religiously chartered Scouting units to “continue to use religious beliefs as a criterion for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality.”
According to the new resolution, however, no adult applying for a job as a paid employee or as a volunteer outside a local unit will be turned away on the basis of sexual orientation.
Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and executive director of Scouts for Equality, shared his thoughts on the new initiative:
“While we still have some reservations about individual units discriminating against gay adults, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of Scouting.”
He also called on those who left Scouting because of its previous policies to “rejoin the fold.”
John Stemberger, chairman of the Christian youth outdoor program Trail Life USA, said on Friday that lifting the ban would be an affront to Christian morals and will make it “even more challenging for a church to integrate a (Boy Scouts) unit as part of a church’s ministry offerings.”
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