Last week, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it has no intention of changing its policy of not allowing openly LGBT people to serve within its ranks or work with the scouting program. Now, according to the Atlantic a protest movement is roiling the organization from within as generations of Eagle Scouts resign from the program over its refusal to change the policy.
“After a confidential two-year review,” read Boy Scouts of America’s July 17 statement, “Boy Scouts of America has emphatically reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays.”
Since then, dozens of Eagle Scouts, the highest honor a BSA member can attain, have returned their medals to the organization. While the Scouts claim that only ten Eagle Scouts have resigned, the blog Boing Boing has been publishing letters from Eagle Scouts who have resigned from scouting, and the number is much higher than that.
The Eagle Scout award requires that a scout earn at least 21 merit badges, each one with a set of skills and requirements to learn and master. In addition to these awards, an Eagle Scout must have conceived and executed a large-scale community service project. Few boys stay in scouting through high school and even fewer of those attain the rank of Eagle. Two million Eagle Scouts have completed the program since the organization was founded more than a hundred years ago.
The protest, while it still involves a fairly small number of scouts, is significant in that it is the first time the group has been challenged from within. Previous protests of the group’s anti-LGBT policy have generally been from LGBT rights groups not affiliated with the Scouts. Boy Scouts of America’s policy currently reads, “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. voted at its national convention in 1991 that the organization had no official interest in members’ sexual orientation. Its policy reads, “As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”
The group reaffirmed its commitment to diversity in 2003, saying in its pamphlet What We Stand For (.pdf): “The Girl Scouts value diversity and inclusiveness and, therefore, do not discriminate on any basis… We believe that sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address.”
Boy Scouts of America took the issue before the Supreme Court in 2000, which ruled in favor of the Scouts and the organization’s ban on LGBT members, leaders and volunteers.