NBC's Pete Williams reported earlier today that the privately operated Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has announced the possibility of ending its discriminatory ban on the basis of sexual orientation. For decades, the Boy Scouts has firmly denied openly gay men and boys from serving or joining their organization in any capacity. The long-held exclusionary policy has sparked outrage among members, as CNN reports that the organization has suffered “months of nationwide protest, including hundreds of angry Eagle scouts renouncing their hard-earned awards and mailing back their red-white-and-blue medals.”
This recent development of proposing the ban's lift is an abrupt reversal of the BSA's reaffirmation of their anti-gay policy last July, which national spokesman Deron Smith stated was “absolutely the best policy” for the Boy Scouts. Today, Smith released the following statement:
For more than 100 years, Scouting's focus has been on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. 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. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs.
If adopted, the revised policy would no longer harbor anti-gay discrimination as part of the Boy Scouts of America's national governance, but would obviously allow local chapters to include or exclude membership on the basis of sexual orientation at their discretion. While change at the national level is undoubtedly “a step in the right direction” as Scouts for Equality founder Zach Wahls states, gay scouts and leaders who continue to suffer discrimination at the local level will still be left with no recourse, as the BSA's national body has no intention of intervening under such circumstances. Additionally, transgender and transsexual men and youth have once again been left out of the conversation all together, as the revision only addresses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender identity.
Transsexual men and youth who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS), including (but not limited to) hormone replacement therapy, hysterectomy and genital reconstruction (phalloplasty) could still be discriminated against at the national and local level if their surgical status is disclosed or discovered. Transgender men and youth who have not undergone SRS may also be rejected by the Boy Scouts due to the fact that their gender presentation does not conform to their anatomical sex. In order for the Boy Scouts of America's national body to be truly inclusive and for local chapters to begin to follow suit, it is vital that non-discrimination on the basis of transgender and transsexual identity be expressly stated.