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Boy Scouts of America: The Good, the Bad and the (Still) Highly Discriminatory

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"True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."
--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The good news is now well-known: Last month, roughly 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) National Council of delegates met in Grapevine, Texas, and approximately 61 percent of them voted to lift the organization's century-old ban on gay and bisexual scouts. The decision will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

According to its past position on homosexuality, "Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed." So why, after its reiteration of the ban just last year, did the National Executive Board even consider a reversal?

Quite simply, the board's policies have placed the BSA on the endangered organizations list. Since its reaffirmation of its ban last year, many major corporate and charitable donors have either pulled out completely or have severely reduced financial support. Such donors include the Intel Foundation, UPS, United Way and the Merck Company Foundation. Over 70,000 people signed a petition asking the BSA's National Executive Board to drop its discriminatory policy. In addition, around 65,000 Boy Scouts turned in their uniforms in 2012, reducing the total membership to below 2.7 million. Since 2000, the organization has lost approximately 21 percent of its membership.

On the other side of the coin, the bad news is that these same BSA delegates failed to take a vote on lifting its longstanding prohibition of gay and bisexual scout leaders, thereby leaving that ban firmly in place. Just last year, the BSA demanded that Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom and a leader of her son Cruz's den, leave her post because she did not "meet the high standards of membership that the Boy Scouts of America seeks." What "high standards" had Tyrrell not met? Under her leadership, the cubs in her den volunteered at a local soup kitchen, collected canned goods for neighboring churches to distribute in food baskets and performed a conservation project at a state park.

The Girl Scouts of America and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America proudly welcome and appreciate members and leaders of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The Girl Scouts organization has indeed fulfilled its own written promises and laws "to be Honest and Fair, Friendly and Helpful, Considerate and Caring, Courageous and Strong, and Responsible."

But how can the BSA truly adhere to the Boy Scout Law of being "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent" when it still clings to its blatantly prejudicial, discriminatory and, quite frankly, offensive policy on issues of sexual orientation?

In addition to gay and bisexual prospective scout leaders, no atheist or agnostic person need apply either, because the BSA charter proclaims:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. [...] The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.

No one is advocating same-sex sexual conduct between Boy Scouts or between scout leaders and Boy Scouts. However, BSA's continuing ban on gay and bisexual leaders confuses identity with conduct. The BSA policy could be called "Tell, Because We Will Ask, and If You Don't Tell, We Will Pursue."