The Boy Scouts of America threw open its ranks Thursday to gay Scouts but not gay Scout leaders – a fiercely contested compromise that some warned could fracture the organization and lead to mass defections of members and donors.
Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.
“This has been a challenging chapter in our history,” the BSA chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote. “While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they’re in Scouting.”
However, the outcome will not end the bitter debate over the Scouts’ membership policy.
Liberal Scout leaders – while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth – have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
In contrast, conservatives with the Scouts – including some churches that sponsor Scout units – wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted.
“We are deeply saddened,” said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee after learning of the result. “Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.”
The Assemblies of God, another conservative denomination, said the policy change “will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.” It also warned that the change would make the BSA vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to end the ban on gay adults.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also expressed dismay.
“While I will always cherish my time as a Scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision,” he said.
The result was welcomed by many liberal members of the Scouting community and by gay-rights activists, though most of the praise was coupled with calls for ending the ban on gay adults.
“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, but until there’s a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue,” said Jennifer Tyrrell, whose ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because she is lesbian launched a national protest movement.
Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland, was elated by the outcome.
Tessier, who is openly gay, is on track to earn his Eagle Scout award and was concerned that his goal would be thwarted if the proposed change had been rejected.
“I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout,” Tessier said. “Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing.”