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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