Boy Scouts Uphold Policy to Exclude Gay Youth

July 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Boy Scouts of America announced Tuesday it had reaffirmed its ban on openly gay youth and adults becoming scouts and leaders. Jeffrey Brown and the Los Angeles Times' Molly Hennessy-Fiske discuss why this decision is as much a business concern as it is one of values.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, the Boy Scouts of America at the center of criticism once again over the group’s policy toward gays and lesbians.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: For more than 100 years, starting in 1910, Boy Scouts have been camping, working on merit badges, learning life skills.

Since the late ’90s, the organization, today numbering some 2.7 million Scouts and more than a million adult volunteers, has faced pressure to change its longstanding policy of excluding Scouts and leaders who are openly gay.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Scouts’ right to maintain that stance, citing the constitutional right to freedom of association. And yesterday, after a confidential two-year review, a special committee of the Boy Scouts reaffirmed the policy.

In a statement, chief Scout executive Bob Mazzuca said, “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.”

Gay rights’ groups condemned the decision. And online campaigns are trying to reverse the policy. One petition on the website was organized by Ohio mother Jennifer Tyrrell. She was removed as a Cub Scouts den mother because she is lesbian. More than 300,000 people signed her petition. And, today, Tyrrell delivered the signatures to the Boy Scouts’ national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The Los Angeles Times is following the decision and the reaction to it. And she joins us now from Houston.

Molly, tell us a bit more about the Boy Scouts’ explanation for why they are reaffirming this policy. What are they saying?

MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE, The Los Angeles Times: Sure.

It was interesting. The announcement that was made yesterday reaffirmed the policy. It reiterated what had already been said. And it came at a time, as you mentioned, when there have been these protests and these high-profile appearances by Jennifer Tyrrell and others who have been ousted as gay Scout leaders or gay Scouts.

So the reaffirmation was seen by observers who I talked to yesterday as just sort of a reaffirming of the character of the Scouts as a more conservative organization. Some of the observers who I talked to who were — had been involved in scouting and had followed scouting for decades said that this just indicated how intertwined the Boy Scouts of America have become with some religious organizations that sponsor a lot of troops, and that this was sort of both a moral decision, but also a business decision as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, to be clear, the policy, this is akin to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, right? People are not asked if they are gay.

MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: Well, I had posed that question to the Boy Scouts spokesman here in Texas yesterday. I had asked, do you ask people when they join, when they apply to become leaders or when children are joining, whether they are gay or not? And he had told me, absolutely not.

And I had also talked to a longtime Scout volunteer who is an Eagle Scout who had written a book about the Boy Scouts, and he likened it to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and said there are some particular troops that are more progressive or more permissive and don’t ask and are supportive of members.

But as the Boy Scouts spokesman said to me, once someone comes out as gay, says that they’re gay, then it becomes an issue for the Boy Scouts.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what is known about the divisions or discussions or debates within the Scouts themselves? I saw, for example, that the two — two very prominent business CEOs who sit on the board, the executive board, have come out recently against the policy.


JEFFREY BROWN: So is there a lot of discussion and division?

MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: Well, that’s where some of the dissenters within the Boy Scouts — one Eagle Scout, Zach Wahls in Iowa, who had formed a group of Eagle Scouts and other Scouts who are pushing for inclusion, more inclusion within the Scouts, they were encouraged by the announcement yesterday.

They said, even though it wasn’t reversing the longstanding policy, they said they felt the formation of a committee and the fact that the Boy Scouts felt the need to come out and address this publicly was significant. And they had pointed to these two board members, the CEOs of Ernst & Young and AT&T, who made statements recently saying that they hoped to change the policy. They said that was encouraging as well, that they hoped that there can be some sort of change from within, not just something that would come from the outside. Because, as you noted, the Supreme Court decision in 2000 had upheld the Boy Scouts’ policy, saying that it was OK for them to do this because they’re a private organization.

JEFFREY BROWN: And speaking from the outside, what kind of pressure, what level of pressure has been coming at the Boy Scouts to change this?

MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: Well, as you mentioned, Jennifer Tyrrell and supporters had met privately with the Boy Scouts here in Texas earlier today.

That was a private meeting. It wasn’t a big public statement. And the observers that I talked to yesterday, both legal experts and the gentleman I mentioned who has a long experience with scouting, said they don’t expect any kind of change to come soon from within.

There was a resolution that had been proposed at the Boy Scouts’ annual meeting back in May that would have led to a change in the policy. But the announcement yesterday pretty much killed that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you said that your sources, people you talked to connect the continuation of the policy largely to — what, to churches, to religious organizations, to conservative groups that support the policy and support the Boy Scouts?


They had cited two churches in particular, the Roman Catholic Church and the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has a part of the Boy Scouts’ Web page and also encourages involvement in the Boy Scouts as part of their youth programs.

Because the Boy Scout troops are sponsored in many cases by churches, this becomes kind of a business concern for the Boy Scouts of America. And so these observers were telling me yesterday, as long as those churches are as involved in the Boy Scouts — we’re talking about — like you said, out of 2.7 million members, about 400,000 are Mormon alone and then you also have the other church members, that is, as long as there is that relationship, then the Boy Scouts are going to hold firm to this policy.

Like I said, there are some members of scouting who are encouraged and think that there can be change from within, but they don’t expect it soon. I think what they’re looking at more is more local control and that change might come from the local level on up in the organization.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The Los Angeles Times, thanks so much.

And you can weigh in and tell us what you think about the Boy Scouts’ decision. That’s on our Rundown news blog.