By GEOFFREY A. FOWLER and ANA CAMPOY, Wall Street Journal
The Boy Scouts of America is weighing an about-face to its long-standing ban on gays among its membership and troop leaders. The Scouts said Monday it was considering a new policy that would let local scouting groups determine their own policies about allowing participation by openly gay people, according to their own "mission, principles, or religious beliefs." The change will be discussed next week by the organization's national board, a Scouts spokesman said.
|Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, center, helps |
deliver 275,000 petitions to a Boy Scouts
board meeting in Florida last May to
overturn the ban on gays.
The move also shows the growing influence of gay-rights groups and their backers. Throughout 2012, the Scouts were lobbied by organizations that collected more than one million signatures asking it to overturn the ban. Amid the tumult, several major corporate donors pulled their support from scouting organizations.
But tolerance towards gays remains controversial. The Scouts' new proposal was immediately condemned by some conservative groups who say it undermines the moral integrity of the organization.
In a statement Monday, Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said that, under the new policy, groups that oversee the organization's youth programs, including churches and schools, would be empowered to make their own choices. "Members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families," he said.
It remains unclear how the Scouts would implement such a plan and contend with the patchwork of conflicting local policies that could result.
The Scouts didn't say how the Irving, Texas, organization had arrived at the proposed change. The group had 2,658,794 youth members and 1,039,825 adult members as of Dec. 31.
Until now, the Scouts had said that same-sex relations are inconsistent with the scouting oath, which requires that scouts be "morally straight."
Last July, after a confidential, two-year review, the organization reaffirmed its policy. It said that an 11-member special committee composed of Scout executives and volunteers had come to the unanimous conclusion that excluding gay scouts is "absolutely the best policy."
Several high-profile members of the Scouts' board publicly promised last June to work inside the organization to change the policy, including AT&T Inc. T +1.61%Chief Executive Randall Stephenson and Ernst & Young CEO James Turley.
In a statement at the time, Mr. Turley said that "an inclusive environment is important throughout our society and I am proud to be a leader on this issue." A spokeswoman said Monday that Mr. Turley declined to comment on the organization's proposed policy change. Mr. Stephenson also declined to comment.
The Girl Scouts of the USA has long had a policy not to discriminate against gay participants. "Sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address," said spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins.
Some gay-rights leaders put changing the Scouts policy on the front burner last spring after an incident in which Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrrell lost her position as a den leader in her son's Cub Scout pack because she is lesbian.
Groups including Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation began online petitions asking the Scouts to change its policy. Another group, Scouts for Equality, said that 11 of the 300 local scouting councils in the U.S. publicly said they disagree with the national organization's policies on gay members.
Over the summer, the Intel INTC +1.09%Foundation, which gives money to causes in which Intel Corp. employees volunteer time, changed its policy to require all organizations that might receive funds to sign a nondiscrimination guarantee that includes gays. The move prevents possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars from going to local Scout troops, an Intel spokesman said, adding that the policy change wasn't made specifically because of the Scouts policy.
In December, the Merck Company Foundation decided to end its financial support to the Scouts specifically because of its gay ban. The company has said it would consider funding the Scouts again when its "inclusion criteria has been expanded." A spokeswoman declined to comment on the proposed change Monday.
Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, called the Scouts' move "craven capitulation to social pressure," adding that "they are putting the sexual integrity of the young boys that are entrusted to their care at risk."
Lorraine Penna, 71, of Easton, Pa., who was a local scout chairwoman for 10 years while her two sons were growing up, said she was against lifting the ban because scout-aged children are "very impressionable" and could be taken advantage of.
But the proposed change won tentative praise from some scouting participants who had been rallying against the ban.
"It would be a partial step in the right direction," said Eric Andresen, of Moraga, Calif., whose son, Ryan, was turned down for his Eagle Scout rank last year because he is gay.
Local scout leaders approved his application, but the national organization refused to consider it. Mr. Andresen said that if the policy changes, he hopes that Ryan can retroactively be awarded the Eagle Scout rank.
"If they change this policy, in Ryan's mind that means that a whole lot of other scouts wouldn't have to go through what he had to go through," he said.
Corrections & Amplifications
People used the website Change.org to launch online campaigns petitioning the Boy Scouts to change its policy on gay members. An earlier version of this article said Change.org itself was among groups that began petitions.
Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ana Campoy at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared January 29, 2013, on page A3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Boy Scouts Rethink Gay Ban.
And here is the actual press release from Boy Scouts of America:
Boy Scouts of America
Monday, Jan. 28, 2013
Attributable to: Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”