The Boy Scouts Just Took A Huge Step Towards Equality [Update]

Photo: Erik Pendzich/REX USA
Update: The Boy Scouts of America have officially lifted the longstanding ban on openly gay leaders, employees, and volunteers; however, faith-based troops will retain the right to restrict roles to heterosexual men. This landmark change comes two years after the BSA lifted a ban on gay scouts.

In the wake of this decision, the Mormon Church is re-evaluating its relationship with the BSA. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board," the church said in its official statement on the shift. "The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

This story was originally published on July 27, 2015.

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its longstanding ban on gay scouts, but it was only a half-step — gay leaders were still banned. Today, the organization is voting to lift that ban, bringing full equality to the scouts and ending an uncomfortable two-tier policy under which a scout who came out when he was 16 would be embraced by the organization for two years...and then booted.

Earlier this month, a smaller executive committee voted unanimously to "allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation." The governing board takes up the issue Monday, and is expected to formally approve it.

"It would be really unprecedented for the executive board to go back on [the decision of the committee,]" says Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, as well as the son of two lesbian moms and an Eagle Scout himself. "We’re feeling pretty confident. All the same, the Scout motto is, 'Be prepared.' So we’re ready for anything."

It's unlikely that the governing board will dissent from the committee's decision; however, lifting the ban will likely have a fracturing effect on BSA overall. An estimated 70% of troops are run by religious institutions — including Mormon, Catholic, Southern Baptist, and Muslim groups that don't recognize gay equality. Even if the ban on openly gay adults is lifted, faith-based troops will reserve the right to reject individuals based on sexual orientation.

But still, doing away with the ban is a landmark move in the right direction. Eric Hetland, 25, is an Eagle Scout who served as a BSA camp leader for seven years and the chapter leader of Scouts for Equality Chicago. He also happens to identify as pansexual, and hid that part of himself from BSA officials until coming out to his program director in 2012. Hetland was asked not to return to camp.

"There have been people long before me who have spent decades outside the program because of this policy," he says. "It has ruined lives...I know what the Scouting oath and law is. For me, that is to stand up when you see something that’s wrong, when you see someone being punished for no fault of their own."

"The idea of Scouting is that it is for everybody, and if we really do believe that, then there shouldn't be an issue with having gay and bisexual adult leaders who will have a positive impact on the community," Hetland adds. "There are gay and bisexual youth in this program: For the last year-and-a-half, that is open and allowed. It sends a terrible message to them that after they turn 18, they are not to be trusted."

The final decision regarding the ban is expected to be revealed today. The Boy Scouts of America is not currently issuing comments, however in an email to Refinery29 today it shared the following: "Scouting will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth to help them grow into good, strong citizens. By focusing on the goals that unite us, we are able to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”

Here's hoping one of those incredible things will soon be teaching boys that sexuality shouldn't preclude anyone from participating in the time-honored tradition of Scouts.
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