The Boy Scouts of America announced Friday a proposal to retain its ban on homosexual leaders but to allow homosexual youth to participate in its programs.
The BSA plans to submit the proposal to the roughly 1,400 voting members of its National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.
Homosexual groups and some corporations that provide financial support for Scouting have demanded a complete lifting of the ban, while most churches that sponsor Scout troops want the policy to remain as it is. The BSA, in making its announcement, estimated that easing the ban on gay adults could cause widespread defections that would cost the organization as many as 350,000 members.
In January, the BSA said it was considering a plan to give local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to exclude them. That plan generated such an outcry that the Scouts withdrew consideration of the plan from the agenda of its national meeting in March. This new proposal is a replacement for that plan.
On Friday, the BSA said it changed course in part because of surveys sent out starting in February to about 1 million members of the Scouting community. The review, according to a BSA statement, “created an outpouring of feedback” from 200,000 respondents.
“While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting,” the statement said.
As a result, the BSA’s Executive Committee drafted a resolution proposing to remove the ban on gay youth while keeping it for all adult leaders.
“The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” the statement said.
The BSA described its survey as “the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history,” though some observers found that statement disingenuous since respondents did not have to provide proof of membership in Scouting in order to complete the online survey. The pro-homosexual groups GLAAD and Scouts for Equality mounted campaigns that encouraged those in favor of the policy change to participate in the survey. In addition, those groups amassed 1.6 million signatures in an online petition at Change.org that calls for an end to banning gays from the Boy Scouts.
Despite these efforts to skew the results, the overwhelming majority of respondents supported the BSA’s current policy of excluding homosexuals by a margin of 61 percent to 34 percent.
Relatively conservative religious groups tend to sponsor most Scout units. These groups include the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, and Southern Baptist congregations, which have supported the ban on gays in the past.
The survey also tried to gauge the proposal’s impact on financial support. Local Scout councils said 51 percent of their major donors opposed easing the ban, while a majority of Fortune 500 companies supported a change.
Since January, the Scouts have come under intense pressure from activists and advocacy groups on both sides of the membership debate.
In Indiana, for example, there’s an ongoing campaign demanding that the United Way withhold funding from the Scouts until the ban is lifted. In California, the state Senate is considering a bill aimed at pressuring the BSA to lift the ban by making the organization ineligible for tax breaks for non-profit groups.
On the other side, the conservative Family Research Council has been circulating an online petition urging the BSA to keep the ban. And in Utah, the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council—one of the largest in the country with 73,400 youth members—said a survey showed that more than 80 percent of its leaders opposed lifting the ban.
John Stemberger, founder of the group OnMyHonor.Net, called the new proposal a “cleverly worded resolution [that] tries to dodge criticism from gay activists but still creates a myriad of problems for how to manage and ensure the safety and security of the boys in the program.” He said the current policy does not need changing because it “is backed by more than 100 years of tradition, [and] allows anyone to participate irrespective of sexual orientation, but only disallows the open and aggressive promotion of homosexuality and political agendas.”