It turns out the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decided it was stumped by what I thought was a no-brainer. Rather than voting to end its ban on participation by gays and lesbians in scouting, the BSA’s national executive board punted. Not only was the vote delayed until May, but it will now be open to the 1,400-member national council. This could spell doom for the effort to make the BSA an inclusive organization open to all who want to benefit from its values, structure and camaraderie.
At first blush, it appeared that the BSA was taking a page out of the playbook used by President Obama during “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When the gay community clamored for an immediate end to the shameful ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, Obama took a more deliberate and ultimately successful path.
The president ordered the Pentagon to study the impact of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on the armed forces and how lifting the ban affect military recruitment, retention and readiness. The study took months. But the results were what the administration and advocates had hoped. Letting gays serve openly was no big deal. The report was released on Nov. 30, 2010. The ban was officially repealed on Sept. 20, 2011.
In announcing the vote delay, BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said, “[D]ue to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.” This will include preparing a resolution for the national council to consider at its meeting in May in Texas. But I’m not confident that the BSA will follow in the Pentagon’s footsteps: According to the Associated Press, “About 70 percent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons’ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The May vote is going to be a heavy lift for those who want the BSA to fully live up to the ideals it espouses.
That being said, I have no doubt that had the executive board voted today the BSA would be in line with the country and on the right side of history. James Turley, the CEO of Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, the chairman of AT&T, are vocal members of the BSA board who want the gay membership restriction lifted. Stephenson’s voice in particular carries considerable weight for two reasons: AT&T is a big donor to the Boy Scouts, and, most importantly, Stephenson is set to become the president of the BSA national board next year.
Getting the national council to overturn its ban on gay participation in scouting will require incredible leadership. My fingers are crossed that Stephenson can get ’er done.
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