The Boy Scouts of America announced today that it will consider allowing troops to decide whether to admit gay members, an unprecedented move that comes after months of online protests, lost funders, and scouts renouncing their memberships. But even if the organization rules next week to drop their long-standing ban on gay scoutmasters and scouts, chartered organizations would still be allowed to discriminate if they choose to. As BSA director of public relations Deron Smith explained in a statement, “The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents.”
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), says that the announcement is “a big accomplishment,” as it’s “the first time the Boy Scouts have said it is publicly considering changing the ban.” But lifting the ban without prohibiting troops from discriminating might not go far enough, he adds. “We’re not going to rest until every gay young adult out there is able to safely participate.”
Nonetheless, since the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its ban on gay members last summer, the organization has seen at least four big funders pull or postpone their funding. Thousands of scouts have spoken out against the policy, and more than 1.2 million Americans have signed petitions against it, according to Scouts for Equality.
The Boy Scouts was also losing local leaders because of the policy. Just last week, Pack 442 in Cloverly, Maryland, was pressured by its regional council to take down an anti-discrimination statement or risk losing its charter. Theresa Phillips, the pack’s committee chair, told Mother Jones that after they were forced to take the statement down, she asked for her name to be removed from the charter. Her husband, a den leader, had renounced his Eagle Scout award months before. “My family loved participating in scouting, and I look forward to the day when we might once again be able to take part,” Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mom who was forced to stop leading her son’s troop because she is gay, told GLAAD. Kate Brown, a former den leader in the Washington, DC, area, says that she took her two sons out of the program after she saw what happened to Tyrrell.
Advocates are optimistic that if the Boy Scouts’ national leadership lifts the ban, troops like Brown’s, Tyrrell’s, and Phillips’ will allow gay members and their families to openly participate. But just how many gay-friendly troops might emerge if the ban is rolled back? According to CNN, 70 percent of Scout troops are affiliated with a church or religious group, and the Catholic and Mormon churches are some of the Scouts’ biggest backers. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans are against having openly gay adults serve as Boy Scout leaders. The conservative Family Research Council is encouraging scouts to “stand strong,” asserting that rolling back the anti-gay policy “would be devastating to an organization that has prided itself on the development of character in boys.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post used the terms “troops” and “packs” interchangeably. Packs are only used to describe units of the Cub Scouts, BSA’s program for boys ages 7 to 10.