Boy Scouts earn a merit badge
The Boy Scouts of America have taken a major step forward. The group voted this week to end its policy banning gay kids and teens from joining the organization. More than 60% of the Scouting National Council voted in favor of lifting the ban, with 757 yes votes to 475 no votes. 168 delegates did not vote because they were not present at the meeting.
There was no vote taken on the ban on gay leaders, so that ban remains in place. For now. The Boy Scouts are moving forward in measured baby steps and that’s just fine.
Change doesn’t come easy for the BSA, one of the oldest and largest private youth organizations in America. But facing pressures which threatened to destroy the organization, the national council did the right thing this week, lifting the ban on gay scouts.
The BSA was thrust into the national spotlight in 2000 when a Supreme Court decision ruled in the group’s favor to maintain its membership restriction based on sexual orientation. The decision caused major dissent and divisiveness, especially among gay scouts and leaders who got the message: “You are not wanted here.”
Then in 2012, after a two-year study, the BSA reaffirmed its position to ban gay membership. That led to nationwide discussions about whether the group should change its membership policy to allow openly gay leaders and members.
However, it didn’t look like anything was going to change with the BSA until the big guns arrived.
Numerous corporations and charities criticized the ban. Heavy hitters such as Chase Manhattan Bank, CVS Pharmacy, Levi Strauss, UPS, Merck, Intel, Pew Charitable Trusts, and some United Way groups withdrew their BSA funding.
It was the financial fallout that finally got the national council’s attention.
The council also received a ton of internal pressure. BSA executive board members, Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, publicly supported ending the ban.
So the handwriting was on the wall. If the BSA didn’t change it could find itself at the end of the trail.
A few months ago, I wrote a story for The Weston Forum about a town meeting the Connecticut Yankee Council held to gather input about the ban from scout leaders and parents.
One of the participants I interviewed was Katie Gregory, a Tiger Cub Scout den leader. Katie had been on both sides of the issue.
She grew up in South Carolina, where she was a member of a conservative Southern Baptist church.
In the 1990s, she was offered an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World, but her church called for a boycott of Disney because it was offering medical benefits to gay couples, so she turned the trip down.
She then discovered that one of her close friends was gay and found herself praying for her friend to convert. “I was trying to pray the gay away and secretly trying to change her,” Katie said.
But while studying the New Testament, she had a revelation.
“When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds that it is to love God. Then without being asked, but wanting people to know, he went on to say that the second greatest commandment is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12: 29-31). Jesus did not say love people who think like you or act like you. He simply said love God, love people. I asked myself, can I do that?” she said.
Through her own spiritual journey, she learned to accept people and love them for who they are. “I’m fortunate, my friend stuck with me through my journey,” she said.
When it comes to scouting, she said, sexual orientation doesn’t preclude a young man from fulfilling and living up to the Boy Scout motto, slogan or laws.
At the town meeting, she told Yankee Council she strongly supported lifting the ban.“Because I have a strong Christian background, I opted to use my faith as a reason for change, knowing the main opposition will also use their faith as a reason not to change. I challenge people to use this as an opportunity to show love despite differences. Have love for people instead of judgment and hatred. You can still have your opinion and truly love people,” she said.
When a Southern Baptist sees the light, the dawn is coming.
The BSA took a major step accepting gay scouts, and has another big step to go accepting gay leaders. But these times they are a changin’ and as any Boy Scout can tell you, a long hike starts with a first step.