Ban on Gay Members Tests Scouts’ Honor

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Jennifer Tyrrell carries a pettion to the Boy Scouts national offices on July 18, 2012, in Irving, Texas. The Ohio woman was ousted as a den mother because she is a lesbian. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

If the Boy Scouts gave out merit badges for “Stubborn Refusal to Change,” they’d proudly wear it on their uniforms. Yesterday, Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian den mother from Ohio who was ousted because of her sexual orientation, delivered a petition to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) headquarters in Texas with over 300,000 signatures urging the BSA to abandon its exclusion policy and reinstate Tyrrell.

The day before — in anticipation of her visit — the BSA reaffirmed its policy of denying membership to gay scouts and scout leaders and said in a statement that the policy “remains in the best interest of Scouting and that there will be no further action taken.” The Scouts’ decision marked the culmination of a two year review spurred by public outcry over the ban. The assessment involved a secret 11-person “committee of volunteers and professional leaders.” BSA spokesman Deron Smith told ThinkProgress that members held “a variety of beliefs on this topic,” but that the “conclusion was unanimous.”

Reuters reported that Tyrrell’s meeting with representatives “was cordial but that no commitments were made.” Tyrrell vowed to continue to fight for her reinstatement.

As a private organization, the BSA can design membership requirements as it pleases. The Supreme Court affirmed that right in a 5-4 decision. But that doesn’t mean the 102-year-old BSA — which calls itself “the nation’s foremost youth program of character development” — is truly modeling the best kind of character development when it openly discriminates against gays and lesbians.

“With the country moving toward inclusion, the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have instead sent a message to young people that only some of them are valued. They’ve chosen to teach division and intolerance,” said Chad Griffin, president of the U.S. gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. ThinkProgress’s LGBT blog, which has been following the issue closely, reports that:

With 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies explicitly protecting gay and lesbian employees from discrimination, LGBT servicemembers [are] now free to serve openly in the U.S. military, and every other major national youth organization opting not to discriminate, BSA has opted to stand alone in clinging to a policy that drives its membership down and flies in the face of its own core tenets.

According to The New York Times, “Boy Scout membership has dropped in recent years but is still sizable: 2.7 million.” Many local BSA chapters are affiliated with Mormon, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. The Times reports that about 400,000 members belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jay Mechling, a professor, former Eagle Scout, and author of On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth told the paper that retaining the policy on gays was “a business decision based on religious pressure.”

Writing in The Huffington Post yesterday, Wayne Besen, the founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit organization that defends the GLBT community against anti-gay lies, says that he believes that “changing demographics” on gay rights will force a change soon:

Look at polls on marriage equality and use them as a guide on when the BSA’s anti-gay policy will fall. Right now, slightly more than 50 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. When the polls edge up to 65 percent to 70 percent, the churches will be under enormous pressure to change or they will find themselves in a knot that even a Boy Scout couldn’t untie.

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  • Mike

    People have a right to believe in that they want and their religious views are inviolate.
    And since the majority of scouting units are sponsored by religious organizations, a point which the gay community has been aware of for years, this latest commotion  is merely and extension of their ongoing effort to discredit religion and religious teachings.  And it is readily apparent to even the least intellectually challenged  among us that if homosexuality was a normative behavior in the course of human development none of us would be here.

    Mr. Besen, like president Obama, wrongly assumes that the churches will change their tenets just to conform to the current age. They apparently have forgotten that Saint Paul admonished us to resist such societal pressures to do so nearly  two thousand years ago. Christians come from a long line of resisters to social trends who, even  even under the threat of death, refused to alter their beliefs And, for those of you who hold your sexuality in higher regard then your humanity you might want to consider that while life is short, eternity is forever.  

  • feministlatinawithstandingKS

    I agree with you on one single solitary point….life is short. You might benefit from listening to what Vandana Shiva has to say about how we are all interconnected. This philosophy of how we are all of *one* has resonated with me since I was a girl of 13 years. The Christian church was preaching the same “finger wagging you will go to hell” dogma that you ended your statement with and I knew, even at 13 years old, that it wasn’t right, it wasn’t love, it wasn’t truly what I knew and felt to be god in my heart because hate and separateness is not divinity. 
    I say dogma because religion was used to justify slavery, racism, sexism, etc. How is this any different? We are human first and whether it is right or wrong we all judge….I choose to base my judgment on people’s contribution to their families and community, their intent, their character illustrated by their actions, not the color of their skin, their sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. 
    Oh and by the way, I am heterosexual-married to my best friend and we have two amazing children who have been cared for by a loving friend who happens to be lesbian. We love her!

  • Anonymous

    Although not unexpected, it is truly sad that this organization – one that can influence and help young boys throughout America – has chosen to exclude gays from their ranks. No doubt the influence of the LDS Church (which uses the BSA program as their youth church program), the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Church made the difference. I have yet to understand how Christian churches that profess to believe in the teachings of Christ can sanction this exclusion. 

  • Juju

    When I was a kid, Girl Scouts were a big part of our lives.  My mother not only was a troop leader at various times, but she ended up being the adult educator for the district.  When I had boys, I was a bit sad because I knew that I could not support an organization like Boy Scouts (when will the Girl Scouts let boys in – please please please).  My husband had been a Boy Scout.  He even has their top something of the arrow award – but he supports my feelings on this.  It is a shame because scouting has so much to offer kids.  However, I refuse to support this sort of ugly lack of compassion on the part of the Boy Scouts.

  • Anonymous

    No one is asking the churches to change their beliefs…only to allow young boys and gay/lesbian leaders to join the Scouting program. I guess that the leadership of these churches are afraid that people will find out that there are decent, kind examples of humankind who just happen to be gay. 

  • Chilly Willy

    Nothing is more normal than homosexuality, given that a small but constant segment of the population as documented anthropologically for the past 2,000 plus years has proven to exist as homosexuals.  It exists in the animal kingdom as well.  Those who believe in God may well wonder what God’s plans were in creating homosexuals other than to test the ability of heterosexuals to overcome their base fears and prejudices.  It’s readily apparent to the least intellectually challenged that the remaining heterosexual population is quite able to procreate and to continue to produce more marvelous amazing homosexuals while supporting the survival of our species.  Moreover Mike, there are numerous religious (even christian) organizations that welcome and embrace us queer folk.   There is nothing particularly spiritual about religion, it’s merely another form of organization with all the typical problems and distractions of power, prestige and control.  Sorry Mike, but there is nothing good to come from this “secret” committee’s stranglehold on an institution that is now more and more likely of becoming irrelevant.  So sad. And so in violation of a belief in a loving God who created us in his image.

  • Anonymous

    Human beings are animals first and foremost. Nothing about homosexual behavior that precludes what it takes to make babies.

  • Eric Johnson

    a former Boy Scout (as an adult Girl Scouter) and as an Eagle Scout, I
    can’t truly express my sadness and disappointment in the organization
    that gave me such great experiences as a boy. Scouting can teach a child
    a great deal about life outside of him or herself, a love and
    appreciation of the wild, the value of a life of service, and the
    rewards of dedication to a project and a community. What the Boy Scouts
    are teaching here is shameful.

  • Gene Monroe

    Homosexuality is normal for a certain percentage of the population. This has been observed in a number of different animal species, and there is no reason to think humans are any different.  
    People have a right to believe what they want to believe, and as a private institution the BSA have the right to certain protections of their beliefs. That being said, there is no more right under the laws of this country to discriminate against homosexuals of either sex than there is to discriminate against black people. Both situations are an issue of equal protection under the law.

    This country is *not founded under Christian principles, and we do not need to follow the outmoded dictates of any particular religion. In short, Christians are entitled to follow their beliefs only so far as those beliefs adhere to the laws of the country in which they reside. Discrimination – on whatever basis, be it color of skin or sexual orientation – is anathema to the founding principles of the United States.

  • BookwormBev

    They probably just want to follow in the footsteps of the Catholic Church.

  • Bill

    Good for the BSA. I am pleased that they stood their ground, and did not compromise their decision. Just because some people are OK with homosexuality, does not mean that everyone else must accept and approve of the lifestyle or be accepting of the behavior. If gays and lesbiams are so.adamant about joining a youth group, nothing is preventing them from starting their own. Why must they continue to try and force their will on an organization that does not share their beliefs?

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Tax money, real estate, and all public support must be removed from and repaid by this hypocritical divisive discriminatory disgrace of an organization that has been hijacked from the public good by ideologues.   I want Philmont back as a national park for starters.

  • Jeremy V. Riedl

    My kid wont be a scout because of this.  And to call this “standing your ground” is similar to saying that the KKK was standing their ground in enforcing segregation in the south.  Any organization which excludes on the basis of sexual orientation might as well exclude on the basis of hair color or skin color or any other random genetic identifier they choose.   This is not anyone forcing their views on anyone else.  The BSA has chosen to say “we don’t want these people” which they have a right to do.  But they are now facing the consequences of that choice with loss of reputation, and membership.  They are choosing to become extinct within a the next generation if they don’t decide to reform.  You cant survive the future by hanging on to the past.

  • Davidcom

    Yes, Mike, and Jesus said that divorce was the equivalent adultery and yet most of the churches have somehow managed to get their theology to accommodate it. You may object that the Catholic church has stood its ground in this respect but that isn’t really true. With the right monetary incentive any marriage can be “annulled”. All the churches will eventually come around on the issue of homosexuality as well. And in a few generations they will have convinced themselves that it was their idea … And that’s fine.

  • Davidcom

    And how about all those black kids and Jewish boys and Muslim boys? Why don’t they all just get their organizations too? Hey! I have an idea! A separate youth organization for Liberals (and by liberal I mean anyone from Richard Nixon on left). Then the BSA would be safe for straight (or closeted) white Baptist boys!

  • Rmurrayatlanta

    How do they know if a kid is gay? Do they have some sort of test?

  • Rmurrayatlanta

    How do they know if a kid is gay? Is there a test they give, pictures of something? I am gay and would have never admitted it as a young man because I did not know how important it is to be honest with yourself then. May god have mercy on the BBC’s soul.

  • Shumphreys

    Change will come unfortunately ONLY when the financial and social incentive is stronger than the incentive not to change. One man’s comment was right on, Scouts should be denied the right to freely use public properties. Aren’t other groups that discriminate against other populations denied such rights? Folks should bombard their local papers with Letters to the Editor, they should lobby their businesses and churches to get them to stop supporting scout groups. Civic leaders that use their scouting affiliation as a badge of honor should be ostracized, voted out of office. I also am a grown up and ex-professional Girl Scout and I worked at Philmont and was an Explorer post advisor for a few years. I quit my affiliation many years ago over this issue AND the issue about Scouts having to profess a belief in God, no atheists allowed. It is sad really, scouting could go a long way towards making this a better world for ALL people, we need programs that teach kids valuable life skills, BUT not programs that promote discrimination and intolerance.

  • Hoyadave

    As long as you believe it, it must be right.   Right?

  • Tim Iverson

    I find it rather ironic that BSA has an anti-gay stance. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers that kids generally call the BSA a “gay” organization — in the sense that kids use the word — sort of a general “not cool” derision.

    I’m not surprised that the LDS, RCC, & Southern Baptists (supposedly) strong-armed the BSA into this position. Adult humans are MUCH more resistant to the destructive viral meme called “religion” than children. All the highly successful (in numbers) religions work extremely hard to establish an area where they’re free to prey on the young and naive.

    Ignorance needs a warning label: Danger, Poison! Keep away from children, priests, and senators. Flushing with reason is efficacious only before the onset of faith.