Since the late 1970s, the Boy Scouts of America (B.S.A.) has had a policy that bans gay youth and adult leaders from membership in the Boy Scouts. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that B.S.A. had the legal right to continue this discriminatory policy. In the years since, organizations have been formed to fight the ban through other channels.
Meanwhile, B.S.A. has ejected Scouts and adult leaders whose homosexuality came its attention. Others, after becoming aware of the policy, left Scouting on their own. Untold numbers have declined to get involved at all.
On May 20, B.S.A., which is facing declining enrollment and a loss of support from, among other entities, some of its corporate supporters, will vote on lifting the ban — but only to the extent that it covers youth Scouting members. Under the proposed change, gay adult leaders will still be banned.
If this nuanced change is adopted, will it make it safe for gay Scouts to come out? What message does it send? Will it be enough to enable B.S.A. to regain some of the support and membership it has lost? Perhaps most importantly, why is the B.S.A. reluctant to make a sweeping statement that discrimination is simply wrong?
This week’s edition of OutCasting explores these complex issues through discussions with people who are or have been involved with the fight to overturn the ban, including:
Evan Wolfson, the civil rights attorney who represented a gay Scout whose ejection from Scouting led to the U.S. Supreme Court case Boy Scouts v. James Dale;
Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality;
Mark Noel, the executive director of the Inclusive Scouting Network who was ejected under the gay ban shortly after the Supreme Court decided the James Dale case;
Michelle Tompkins, national media manager of the Girl Scouts of the United States;
Christoph, who left Scouting;
David, a current Scout who opposes the ban; and
Michael, who is still closeted in Scouting.
This edition is also being carried nationally on the Pacifica program Sprouts.