The Boy Scouts of America is again preparing to find itself in the crossfire of the national battle over gay rights.
A draft resolution for a proposed membership policy, to be released by BSA officials publicly by Monday, will be voted on by some 1,400 delegates of the BSA National Council at a three-day meeting in Grapevine, Texas, starting May 22.
At issue is whether the ban on openly gay Scouts and adult troop leaders will remain, and the venerable organization is likely to face significant flak no matter what it decides. Scouting families, supporters and alumni on both sides of the issue will be holding rallies and campaigns ahead of the May vote.
“It is our hope that BSA leaders heed the call of Scouting families and faith-minded supporters across the country and vote their conscience to end discrimination so that no young American is excluded from the proud tradition of Scouting,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
But John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net, a national coalition of BSA parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other Scouting leaders, said he and his allies “just want to see the existing policy stay in place” in honor of the BSA’s “timeless values.”
OnMyHonor.net is planning a national conference call, rallies at the nearly 300 local BSA councils, and demonstrations of support for the policy at the Grapevine meeting, said Mr. Stemberger, who is also president of Florida Family Policy Council.
The current policy says that while BSA officials will not “proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, 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 the BSA” a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach for the hugely popular youth organization.
The issue of same-sex attraction “should be introduced and discussed outside of [the Scouting] program, with parents, caregivers or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” the policy says, adding the “vast majority of parents do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.”
The BSA won the right to keep this membership policy in the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case, and in July 2012 the BSA affirmed its policy after a two-year study. One factor in the draft discussions is that any policy change could reopen the entire legal question for the organization.
As polls suggest national sentiment has shifted in favor of gay marriage, and news spread last year that lesbian den mother Jennifer Tyrrell was forced to resign, the BSA membership policy has come under increasing political fire. In January, BSA leaders said they were considering a policy change to permit local BSA councils to decide who could join.
But the ensuing outcry led Scouting leaders to table that proposed policy, collect more information and bring a new proposal to a vote in May. This offer is slated to be released by Monday, BSA spokesman Deron Smith said Thursday.
The BSA’s “listening phase,” Mr. Smith noted, included a survey sent to 1.1 million people associated with Scouting; a survey of 800 U.S. parents with a minor son; and an interactive survey of more than 1,000 16- to 18-year-olds, including 218 randomly selected Scouts.
The battle over public opinion, however, is likely to reach fever pitch in the next few weeks.
In California, a bill to strip state tax-exemption status for the BSA and other “discriminatory” youth-serving groups has passed its first committee vote. Chipotle Mexican Grill has joined other companies, including Merck & Co., UPS and Intel, in cutting or eliminating their financial support for BSA events over its policies on gay membership.
Besides OnMyHonor.net, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family and many religiously affiliated networks are urging their members to “take a stand” for the BSA and its current membership policy.