Gay scouts- yes; gay leaders- no. That is the result of the vote by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council. The vote ended up being 61 to 28 to allow gay Scouts, at least until they reach the age of eighteen, at which point they will be promptly kicked out because they are adults.
The vote is unlikely to end the debate over the issue given that some of the most supportive organizations for the BSA are Evangelical Christian churches which vehemently oppose homosexuality from even being legal. Those churches wanted to continue the exclusionary policy towards gay youths.
More Liberal Scout leaders have been pushing for the repeal of the ban on gay scouts for some time now. They want to have the ban on gay Scout leaders lifted as well. The ban on gay Scout leaders has often been couched in terms of protecting children from pedophiles despite the fact that the available data shows that there is no link between pedophilia and homosexuality. Additionally, if they are concerned about adults targeting teenage boys, the policy would also require the exclusion of women from leadership roles.
Reactions were mixed from within the LGBT Community:
Rick Garcia, the Policy Director at The Civil Rights Agenda, stated “The move to allow gay scouts and continue to forbid gay scout leaders won’t work. This is a failed attempt at compromise to appease anti-gay bigots and appease those who believe in fairness and equality for all. While this vote is a step in the right direction, it has only bought more years of wrangling over this issue”
GLAAD released a fairly lengthy statement. Greg Bourke, who was his son’s troop’s Scoutmaster stated “This is an historic day in the 103-year history of the Boy Scouts of America — the day it finally found its moral compass and started down the long trail to equality in Scouting. No longer will gay Boy Scouts have to hide their sexual orientation from fear of being criticized and ousted from the Boy Scout membership rolls. That is definite progress, but even with this approved membership change, gay adults like Jennifer Tyrrell and myself will continue to be banned from serving in the Scouts, even in units with our own children. There is no other word for that except ‘discrimination.’” Bourke was forced out because he is gay.
Eric Andresen and his wife Karen were one of the LGBT families to push for an end to the ban. Their son Ryan is gay. They stated “We are relieved to hear that other Scouts will not have to suffer the rejection and expulsion that Ryan experienced, and we’re glad to see that the BSA is finally starting to see how harmful its discriminatory policies have been. Had this policy been in place just 8 months ago, Ryan would already be an Eagle Scout, and he could’ve avoided so much pain.”
Pascal Tessier added to this that “Just a few hours ago, I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout. Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing. Like my brother before me, I now have a chance to earn my Eagle award — something that’s taken most of my life to achieve. Finally, Scouts are no longer forced to choose between upholding the Scout Oath and being open and honest about who they really are as a person.”
Finally, Zach Wahls, Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality, stated “Today’s vote ending discrimination of gay Scouts is truly a historic moment and demonstrates the Boy Scouts of America’s commitment to creating a more inclusive organization. Scouts for Equality is honored to be a part of the movement that has achieved a tremendous victory towards the fight for equality in America and we are proud to call ourselves Scouts. We look forward to the day where we can celebrate inclusion of all members and are committed to continuing our work until that occurs.”
Rich Ferrero, GLAAD spokesman, stated “Today’s vote is a significant victory for gay youth across the nation and a clear indication that the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay adult leaders will also inevitably end. The Boy Scouts of America heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people, and GLAAD will continue this work with those committed to equality in Scouting until gay parents and adults are able to participate.”