Scouts Move Toward Allowing Gay Leaders
By Marene Gustin
“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.” With those words, Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and a former secretary of defense and CIA director, set the Scouts on a path to allow openly gay leaders for the first time.
Speaking at the BSA’s annual national meeting in Atlanta on May 21, Gates called for an end to the ban on gay Scout leaders. Although not saying when he would ask the national executive board to take action on a policy change, he stressed that current events such as the Supreme Court’s anticipated ruling on same-sex marriage, potential discrimination lawsuits, and the changing mores of the public at large, all indicate that the Scouts need to make changes before changes are forced on them by the courts.
Charles Spain, a local attorney and an Eagle Scout who relished his scouting days—and his current participation with his son who is a Boy Scout—was only mildly surprised by Gates’ comments.
“Based on the changing attitudes of the Scouts coming in now, and their parents, if BSA doesn’t change, it will be caught in a death spiral,” said Spain. “If you read his speech, it makes perfect sense. What he is proposing is to drop any policy on gay adults in Scouts and leave any decision up to the local franchise, many of which are churches and religious institutions.”
In 2013, at a national Scout meeting in Grapevine, Texas, which Spain attended, a vote was taken to allow gay Scouts in the organization. It passed by 60 percent, but it did not address gay adults, who are still banned.
“I attended that meeting,” said Spain. “I was happy at the vote, but not surprised. I think this time they won’t take a full vote, but just leave it to the national executive board. And probably not until after the Supreme Court announces the same-sex marriage verdict.”
A vote to change the policy would appeal to many BSA leaders, including the Greater New York Councils that this year hired 18-year-old gay Eagle Scout Pascal Tessier to work in a BSA summer camp. Gates said BSA would take no action against the council, or any others who defied the ban against gay adults.
In another sign of progress, the Mormons (who are the largest sponsor of BSA troops) have said they are okay with the move, as has the Roman Catholic Church (BSA’s third-largest sponsor, accounting for about 10 percent of the nation’s of 2.6 million Scouts). But while neither church opposed the inclusion of gay Scouts in 2013, other more conservative church sponsors were less accepting. The Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative Christian group, created Trail Life USA as a Christian alternative after the BSA began accepting gay Scouts in 2013.
Still, Spain is hopeful that BSA is moving in the right direction.
“My husband and I volunteer at all our son’s scouting events,” he said. “Everyone has always been kind and respectful to us. There’s another gay couple, and their son is in our troop as well. There’s never been any issues. The only thing is that when we go to a camp or events, we’re the only adults not wearing the uniform.
“Still, I believe in the Boy Scouts of America,” Spain said. “I believe in the work they do for our youth, and I believe this change will happen.”