Written by Emily Mullins
United Church of Christ advocates are pleased with the decision of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council to formally accept gay and bisexual youth into the organization. The new policy, which allows gay and bisexual members, but continues to exclude gay and bisexual leaders, was voted on by 1,400 BSA National Council members at the organization's annual meeting May 23. It passed by a vote of 68 percent for to 31 percent against.
"I am happy with today's vote to welcome more youth to scouting by removing the barrier of sexual orientation," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for LGBT concerns. "This is an important and significant step, and the United Church of Christ stands ready to be helpful in every way we can to support scouting programs that are inclusive and safe for everyone."
The UCC has been a long-time opponent of the organization's discriminatory policy, officially calling for its end at the UCC's General Synod in 2003. There are currently 1,191 UCC-sponsored BSA units and 38,225 scouts participating at UCC churches.
In a statement, the BSA said the policy change is not a result of outside pressure, but that it is what the majority of the organization thinks is best for young people who want to experience the benefits of the scouting program.
"The change to the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy is not the result of pressure from outside; it is the result of extensive dialogue within the scouting family," said BSA President Wayne Perry. "Parents, adults in the scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of scouting. The resolution is not about adults – it is about what is best for young people."
The BSA said there are no plans for further review of the issue.
While it is a move in the right direction, UCC LGBT advocates say the new policy contradicts the BSA's efforts to become more inclusive. Schuenemeyer says maintaining the BSA's exclusion of gay leaders is comparable to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and is not a long-term solution.
"While it is welcomed progress, this new policy decision is only a step," Schuenemeyer said. "The onerous policy that discriminates against gay adult leaders remains unchanged. We will continue to work with UCC members and congregations, in collaboration with groups such as Scouts for Equality, to engage with the Boy Scouts of America to change that policy, too."
Art Williams is a member of St. Paul's UCC in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and council commissioner of the BSA's New Birth of Freedom Council. Like Schuenemeyer, Williams agrees this new policy is a positive step forward, but more work needs to be done for the BSA to be truly inclusive.
"This is a really good first step and we want to keep going," he said. "We encourage scouting to continue down this path to become more open and affirming by allowing gay adults as well."
The BSA initiated a ban on gay scouts and leaders in 1978, and has reaffirmed it multiple times, most recently last summer. In January, the organization said it was considering a proposal that would let local religious and civic groups that sponsor scout units choose whether to allow gay members and leaders, but in February postponed the vote to gather more information. After collecting feedback from 200,000 members, the BSA introduced the revised policy last month that would allow membership of gay and bisexual youth, but continue to exclude gay leaders, which was approved by the BSA National Council.