United Church of Christ LGBT advocates believe the new policy being considered by the Boy Scouts of America — to allow membership of LGBT youth but continue to exclude gay leaders — contradicts the organization's efforts to become more inclusive. The proposal is a step in the right direction, but the Rev. Michael S. Schuenemeyer sees maintaining the BSA's policy on gay leaders comparable to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and is not a long-term solution.
"Because youth are a primary concern, I support the proposed Boy Scouts of America resolution to change their membership policies to allow gay youth to participate in scouting programs," Schuenemeyer said. "But I'm dismayed by the decision to maintain the current ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy with regard to gay scout leaders. It communicates to youth that if you're ‘out' about being gay you will not be allowed to one day become an adult scout leader and share the leadership and other skills you have learned — a not-so-subtle message that you are not as good as your fellow straight scouts."
The BSA's executive committee introduced the proposal Friday, which is expected to be presented to voting delegates at the BSA Annual Meeting in May. If approved, it would end the BSA's policy of denying membership to youth based solely on sexual orientation.
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.
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. The UCC denounced the BSA's reaffirmation of its ban on gay scout members and leaders last summer, and was disappointed by the January decision to delay the vote on the policy revision. There are currently 1,191 UCC-sponsored units and 38,225 scouts participating at UCC churches.
Friday's proposed policy change is said to be based on feedback from 200,000 members of the scouting community. In a survey sent out to about 1 million members in February, the majority of the respondents agreed that youth should not be denied BSA membership solely on the basis of sexual orientation. UCC advocates say the potential alteration in the policy in allowing gay youths to join the scouts could reflect changes in public opinion about the LGBT movement.
"I urge the delegates at the upcoming annual meeting to adopt the change, and I encourage the scouting program to take all the necessary steps to welcome gay scouts, and provide a safe and nurturing space for their full participation," said Schuenemeyer. "This current policy of excluding gay scout leaders is inconsistent with the core values of scouting and there is no good reason for it to continue."
The United Church of Christ, headquartered in Cleveland, has a long history of affirming and working for equal rights for LGBTQ persons. The UCC is a mainline Protestant denomination of 1.1 million members and more than 5,000 local congregations.