The Boy Scouts of America may reconsider a 35-year ban on gay scouts and leaders as early as next week. And while many faith groups are denouncing the decision, the United Church of Christ and other inclusive faith communities support the policy change as a step forward, which they say is long overdue.
"Although media stories have only represented the faith voice that opposes this action, for decades there have been hundreds of UCC congregations, as well as other welcoming and inclusive faith communities, urging the BSA to eliminate discrimination," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive minister for LGBT concerns, in a statement. "We are calling on the BSA leadership to take advantage of this opportunity to make it happen now."
The BSA initiated a ban on gay scouts and leaders in 1978, and has reaffirmed it multiple times, most recently last summer. Under the proposed policy change, the local religious and civic groups that sponsor scout units would have the choice to allow gay members and leaders. This discussion is anticipated at next week's national executive board meeting.
"The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents," said a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, Deron Smith, in a statement. "This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs." According to the BSA, this would allow scouts and their parents to choose a local chapter that best meets their needs.
"While every scouting program should be inclusive and welcoming to all, it is important to note that the policy change under consideration will give local scouting organizations the freedom to choose, creating a patchwork of welcoming and not-welcoming scout organizations," Schuenemeyer said. "Nevertheless, the policy change under consideration is an important step to full inclusion."
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude gays in 2000, but pressure to end the policy has mounted since then. The current proposal comes after years of protests from individuals and groups, like the UCC, that find the policy discriminatory. Some corporate sponsors, such as UPS Inc. and drug-manufacturer Merck & Co., have suspended their donations as long as the policy is in place.
In Cleveland, where the UCC is headquartered, the local United Way charitable organization has pulled BSA funding because of the current policy.
"The discriminatory policies and practices of the BSA invite gay or bisexual persons to feel diminished, invisible and marginalized," Schuenemeyer said. "Thousands of boy scouts have felt shame and embarrassment about the current policy of exclusion, which they feel is inconsistent with the scout laws that embrace values of dignity and respect for all."
ACTION ALERT: Contact the Boy Scouts of America today and tell them you support a policy change that welcomes gay and bisexual scouts and scout leaders.
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.