What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What dropping the ban on gay leaders means for the Boy Scouts

Last night, the Boy Scouts of America voted to end a ban on leaders who are openly gay. The policy would allow exceptions for church-sponsored scout units, but several religious organizations are either apprehensive or in opposition. Gwen Ifill discusses the change with Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality.

Read the Full Transcript

  • GWEN IFILL:

    After years of debate, the Boy Scouts of America voted last night to end a ban on adult leaders who are openly gay. The policy still would allow church-sponsored Scout units to maintain an exclusion for religious reasons. The Scouts decided two years ago to allow openly gay youth.

    Several religious organizations are either apprehensive or oppose the new policy, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which sponsors more Scout troops than any other denomination. Mormon leaders said in a statement they will reexamine their ties to the Boy Scouts. "The church," they said, "has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

    We invited several religious organizations to appear tonight, but they declined.

    Zach Wahls is the executive director of Scouts for Equality.

    Thank you for joining us, and welcome.

    So, how big a deal is this? We have seen this coming bit by bit for a time.

    ZACH WAHLS, Scouts for Equality: This is an historic step by the Boy Scouts of America.

    They first implemented this policy in 1978, 37 years ago, and for them to go from that policy, which they adopted in the '70s, to voting last night to end the ban, even though there is a religious exemption, as you mentioned, is still a pretty big chapter for the Boy Scouts to be moving on to.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So, how did it happen? We heard Robert Gates, who used to be secretary of defense and is now the head of the Boy Scouts, say that this was — maintaining the old policy was no longer sustainable. What does that mean, sustainable?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    Well, I think, in this context, Gates was referring to the fact that the Boy Scouts' policy was under essentially assault from both legal challenges that were being placed in New York and in Colorado, but also the fact that this is the kind of ban that is going to create stories that will really illustrate the damage that the ban was creating.

    For example, in April of 2012, Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian den mother from Bridgeport, Ohio, was thrown out of her Cubs Scout troop.

    Earlier this year, we finally heard from — in New York that a gentleman had been hired to work in their summer camp, which is the first time that has ever happened. Up until this point, the Boy Scouts had refused to hire gay adults.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But you're talking anecdotally. How widespread an impact will this really have on the culture of Scouting?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    Well, it's really difficult to say without — with specificity, simply because we don't have reliable polling data.

    But what we do know is that since James Dale, who was a gay assistant Scout master from New Jersey, was removed from the Boy Scouts in 1990, and his challenge to the Boy Scouts would later become the Supreme Court case Dale v. BSA, the Boy Scouts have seen a precipitous decline in their membership since 1990.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In coming to this agreement, the Boy Scouts agreed to allow for exemptions essentially for religious organizations. Is that something that you find that acceptable?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    Our position has always been that discrimination at any level sends a harmful message to youth, gay or straight alike, and that discrimination has no place in Scouting.

    All the same, I think it's important to recognize that this is a big change for the Boy Scouts and it makes sense that they're going to have to find a compromise with their religious partners.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So big organizations, churches, Mormons that we described earlier, if they decide to just pull out of Boy Scouting entirely, doesn't that undermine Scouting itself?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    I want to be very clear. We hope the Mormons don't leave.

    Our belief has always been that Scouting is stronger when it has a more diverse representation in its members. And we think that the Mormons should stay, as well as the Catholics, the Baptists. Our position has never been that people should be forced out of Scouting. We have always said that the values of Scouting are universal they should be welcome to everyone who is willing to live by the Scout oath and the Scout law.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So that means that conversations will continue between you and people who agree with you and with these church organizations?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    Absolutely.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In what way? Has it begun already? Have there been discussions?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    We have already heard from faith groups that are going to be coming back to the Boy Scouts. Those include the Unitarian Universalist Association, which announced today that they are going to be trying to reestablish a relationship with the Boy Scouts.

    They left after the Supreme Court decision that upheld the Boy Scouts' gay ban. We're also reaching out to other organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism. We hope that the United Church of Christ will increase its commitment to the Boy Scouts. We're very excited about building a stronger, more inclusive Boy Scouts moving forward.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What do you say to people who say that whether it's a Scout member or a Scout leader, that their sexuality just shouldn't be an issue in these cases?

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    I agree sexuality absolutely shouldn't be an issue. And that's why we thought that the ban had to end.

    I have got two moms, Jackie and Terry. I don't know if they're watching at home, but they were able to be a small part of my Scout experience growing up because we happened to live in a progressive community, where their involvement wasn't an issue.

    But in places like Bridgeport, Ohio, where Jennifer Tyrrell is, it clearly was an issue. And no parent should be denied from their Scouting — their son's Scouting experience simply because those parents happen to be gay.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, thank you for joining us.

  • ZACH WAHLS:

    Thanks, Gwen.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest