On Friday, the Boy Scouts of America unveiled a compromise proposal, calling for an end to its long-standing ban on openly gay members, while maintaining its ban on gay adult leaders. The resolution, which states that “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” will be put to a vote by the organization’s national council next month.
The announcement surprised and disappointed both opponents and supporters of the ban, who were already mobilizing to influence the outcome of the vote before they knew exactly what would be considered. The resolution is fueling a new push.
Letters are being written, e-mails sent and donations threatened. In Utah, nearly half of Boy Scout leaders in the Salt Lake City area said they would quit the organization if the ban is removed. In California, legislators are considering stripping the organization of state tax breaks if the ban is not removed.
On Friday, a national group called OnMyHonor.Net, a coalition of Scout leaders, parents, donors and Eagle Scouts, urged the national council to vote against the resolution and “uphold the time-tested membership policy of the Boy Scouts.”
But if lobbying efforts can be measured in decibels, one of the loudest is coming from Washington, where politically savvy parents who want the Scouts to embrace gay youth and adult leaders have been using every back-channel method they can think of to pressure their regional organization.
The local United Way has given the Boy Scouts more than $1 million over the past five years. The parents figured that would give the United Way some leverage with National Capital Area Council (NCAC), which overseas hundreds of Boy Scout troops between Frederick and Fredericksburg and is one of the country’s largest, most influential regional groups.
What the parents didn’t know was that William Hanbury, president of the United Way of the National Capital Area, has a gay son who left Scouting at 13.
“He sensed that he wasn’t going to be accepted,” said Hanbury, who met with the parents a few weeks after receiving their letter.
They were euphoric when Hanbury pulled out of a letter of his own, signed by him and Joseph M. Rigby, the head of Pepco and chairman of the local United Way. It urged the NCAC to support lifting the ban when it votes the week of May 20.
“The world is different today than when the Boy Scouts was originally organized, and our donors are in-step with the modern values of diversity and inclusiveness,” the letter read. “Later this May, you will have an opportunity to assure diversity and expand inclusiveness by fully accepting gays into the Boy Scouts.”