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The Boy Scouts of America: Taking Steps Towards Inclusivity

August 6th, 2016

Boy Scouts of America on a US postage stamp.

The Boy Scouts of America have sometimes been slow to adapt to changing social norms.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was created over 100 years ago. It began as a combination of several other groups and quickly grew to become the largest youth organization in our country for a time. Throughout its tenure, the BSA has faced its share of conflict. For example, in the segregated south, many Boy Scout troops did not allow boys of color to enroll. The BSA decided that, on the whole, it would not dictate whether children of color could be outright banned from the organization, it decided to allow individual troops to make the decision. In 1974, the final Boy Scout troop finally integrated.

Regarding openly gay men and youths, the BSA has not given such autonomy to individual troops. Until last few years, the LGBT community was flat out banned from joining the scouts.

Openly Gay Men and Youth Previously Banned from Boy Scouts

The conversation about allowing gay men into the BSA began in earnest in the 1990s and 2000s when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ruled that the BSA is allowed to ban gay men from its membership. In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, a former Eagle Scout and troop leader’s adult membership was revoked after the BSA learned that James Dale was gay. He sued claiming that the BSA was in violation of a New Jersey public accommodation law. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the BSA, acknowledging the Boy Scouts were not a place of public accommodation. It further found that requiring the BSA to allow Dale to maintain his membership would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.  

So 16 years later, where does the LGBT community stand with the Boy Scouts of America?  

The Boy Scouts of America Have Recently Changed Their Policies

In 2013, the BSA made strides towards including youths who openly identify as gay, thus allowing them membership. In large part, it justified its decision stating that all boys benefit from the BSA, and regardless of sexual identity, gay youths would obtain an overall positive experience from the program.

Two years later, despite its controversial and sometimes conservative views, the BSA decided to take another step in the right direction. In July of 2015, the BSA ended its ban on gay leaders, at least for the most part. While the decision does prohibit the discrimination against openly gay men who are seeking paid employment with the BSA or are otherwise working in one of the BSA’s offices, the policy does not prohibit church-sponsored troops from denying gay men leadership roles with their respective troops.

What is Next for the BSA?

Although it appears the BSA is making progress towards becoming an overall inclusive organization, its action seems to be reactive rather than proactive. LGBT issues have become increasingly complex as our societal vocabulary now includes “transgender,” “gender fluidity,” and “gender identity,” just to name a few. How will the BSA proceed? Only time will tell, but you can count on Universal Life Church to help keep you informed.





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