The Girl Scouts have vowed to not exclude gays and lesbians. So have Boys & Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
But on Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its ban on gays, a decision experts say reflects the conservative values of many members and the influence of two powerful benefactors — the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches.
The Boy Scouts’ chief executive, Bob Mazzuca, says he thinks there is broad-based support for the policy, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2000.
“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 advisors and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Mazzuca said Tuesday in a statement.
For those who want to scrap the policy, the decision was a sign that, if change does come to the Boy Scouts, it will be prompted not by outside groups but by members of the scouting community.
Zach Wahls, a 20-year-old Eagle Scout from Iowa with two lesbian moms, is among those hoping to end the ban.
“I respect the Boy Scouts’ rights as a private organization to dictate their own membership — it makes sense to me that they wouldn’t allow girls to join the BSA,” said Wahls, who helped found Scouts for Equality, a group opposing the policy on gays. “But we aren’t some outside group litigating, trying to get the Boy Scouts to change policy.”
The policy is essentially “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Although the group “does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members,” according to spokesman Deron Smith, “we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission” of scouting.
Tuesday’s announcement came after a confidential two-year review by an 11-member Boy Scout special committee formed in 2010, Smith said….
Wahls said he and other protesters had been encouraged in recent weeks to see at least two members of the Boy Scouts’ national executive board come out against the policy — Ernst & Young Chief Executive James S. Turley and AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson. Stephenson is set to become president of the board in two years.
Turley and Stephenson did not comment on the announcement, but AT&T released a statement saying that “diversity and inclusion” are part of the company’s culture and that “our belief is that change at any organization must come from within to be successful and sustainable.”
Boy Scout membership has dropped in recent years but is still sizable: 2.7 million, Smith said. Of those, about 400,000 belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church encourages members to become involved in Boy Scouts, and has its own section on the Boy Scouts of America Web page.
Unlike Girl Scouts, Boy Scout troops are sponsored by groups, including many Catholic and Mormon churches. When the Boy Scouts faced legal challenges to its policies excluding gays, girls and atheists in the 1990s, Scout leaders — many of whom belonged to one of the two churches — started to weigh the value of that sponsorship against the will of the membership, experts say.
Jay Mechling, a professor of American studies at UC Davis and a Boy Scouts volunteer, called retaining the policy on gays “a business decision based on religious pressure.”
“That’s not to say there aren’t leaders in the Boy Scouts who feel strongly about morality and homosexuality. But when they see a lot of the troop leaders are churches, they go the direction they think is going to be healthiest for having the most boys registered,” Mechling said.
Mechling, 67, is an Eagle Scout who spent 25 years researching the organization for his 2004 book, On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth.
He said he saw firsthand how the Mormon Church became entwined with Boy Scout leadership, sponsoring troops and camps in the San Gabriel Valley and Catalina Island. He also saw troops and councils elsewhere in the state that quietly accepted gay leaders and members….
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