OutCasting Episode 17 — the Boy Scouts of America's gay ban is partially lifted

June 5, 2013

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.

More than 60% of volunteer Scouting leaders voted on Thursday, May 23, to partially lift the ban, but only to the extent that it covers youth Scouting members; under the proposed change, gay adult leaders will still be banned.

Will it now be safe for gay Scouts to come out?  What message does the partial change 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, which was produced before the vote took place, 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 program was broadcast nationally on the Pacifica Radio Network.

On May 8, 2014, nearly a year after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to partially lift its gay ban, The New York Times published an article concluding, not unpredictably, that the partial change was "promoted as a compromise intended to offer the organization time to figure out how to proceed.  Instead, it has brought the Scouts only more ire from all directions and produced a house divided."

In 2015, BSA lifted its ban on gay adult scouting leaders, but in reality, this was only a partial lifting because it still permitted individual troops to discriminate, as described in The New York Times.  In early 2017, BSA lifted its ban on transgender boys.  In May 2017, the Mormon Church announced it was partially withdrawing from scouting.  On May 19, 2017, James Dale, a gay former Eagle scout who was ejected because of his homosexuality and whose case fighting that ejection went to the Supreme Court, published an opinion piece in The New York Times encouraging BSA to eliminate the ban altogether.




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