New Boy Scouts of America Policy Could Allow Gay Scouts, While Still Banning Gay Scout Leaders and Atheists

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America announced a proposal that would finally allow the inclusion of gay scouts. But gay scout leaders would still be banned. (And forget about atheist scouts altogether.)

“While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of scouting,” the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) said in a statement on Friday.

“For this reason, the executive committee, on behalf of the national executive board, wrote a resolution for consideration that would remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone and would maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America.

It’s a *huge* baby step forward. It’s like they were saying, “We’ve decided we’re only going to be kinda homophobic.”

As one reader remarked on Twitter: “And remember, gay Scouts, don’t expect to be able to pass on what you have learned from Scouting when you grow up.”

GLAAD wasn’t pleased with the halfhearted change either:

“By refusing to consider an end to its ban on gay and lesbian parents, the Boy Scouts have missed an opportunity to exercise leadership and usher the organization back to relevancy,” Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications at GLAAD, said in a statement. “We’re living in a culture where, until every young person’s family is treated equally and able to contribute, the Boy Scouts will continue to see a decline in both membership and donations.”

American Atheists supports the policy change but calls for even more inclusion:

American Atheists applauds the national Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decision to vote on whether to lift the ban on gay participants, but calls for the organization to also retract its ban against nontheists.

“We’re pleased that the Boy Scouts of America is stepping into the 21st century,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “This is a step in the right direction. But the organization’s leaders still continue to discriminate not only against gay leaders, but against atheists, too. Just because our children don’t profess a god belief doesn’t mean they can’t be good Scouts. This organization is only hurting the children. That’s not right. It’s discrimination; it’s bigotry, plain and simple. It’s time to end this once and for all.”

“The Scouts are losing privileges such as public accommodations and corporate support because of this discrimination. If the BSA continues to exclude atheists, American Atheists will fight to ensure BSA does not get these privileges back. We call upon the gay community to support our inclusion as we have worked and continue to fight for its inclusion,” Silverman said.

“If the Boy Scouts is going to determine membership qualifications by vote, we ask for a survey about children of nonbelievers,” said Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director. “We think it’s wrong to label children by religious views since we believe all people can be good without gods.”

The policy still has to be voted on in May in order to take effect. You would hope the BSA leaders at least have the courage to stand up to the bigots and support this bare-bones policy change, but considering that it took them this long just to suggest gay scouts should be treated the same as straight ones, forgive me for being pessimistic.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • corps_suk

    And thats fine so long as they don’t take government money or use government land without paying.

  • sam

    Fundagelicals love to hate gays as much as their love of authoritarianism (which proto-fascist organizations like the BSA engender). I wonder, if pitted against each other, which would win?

    Take Abraham in Gen 22, the gold standard in xian celebration of blind, slavish obedience to authority. If Abraham was ordered by yhwh to ascend Mt. Moirah & have consensual anal sex with an adult male, would fundies belief that obedience to the Dear Leader was moral or immoral?

    If obedience is immoral, does the fundy believe that consensual homosexual intercourse is more immoral than child murder? Of course, if yhwh ordered Abraham to enjoy sex with a man, but an angel stops him before the act is consummated, then he has still committed sodomy in his heart (Matt 5:27-28), as we all know.

    So, which is it fundies? Are you prepared to squeal like a pig for Jebus?

  • timberwraith

    I’m hoping for one of two things:

    1) They continue to hemorrhage money and members until they give up and become fully inclusive in matters of gender identity/sexuality and religious belief (or non-belief).

    2) They continue to hemorrhage money and members until they become culturally irrelevant.

    Given that it will probably take them a few decades to include trans kids, queer/trans* adults, atheists, and agnostics, I’m hoping for option #2.

  • Erp

    It isn’t much of a step forward since the apparent policy from 2004 until possibly 2012 was not to ban gay youth completely. Instead they banned them from holding leadership positions “As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position”. In 2012 they announced that all gay youth were banned but didn’t mention that this was a change in policy (Ryan Andresen, for instance, was accused of being atheist, which he denies, before being kicked out in 2012).

    resolution text and the BSA FAQ on it

    I like the weasel words of

    19. Will local units be able to deny membership to youth based on sexual orientation?

    If passed, no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

    Membership in the BSA is not the same as belonging to a local troop and many troops do limit by size if nothing else.

    Note the voters on this measure are not the youth or even necessarily the working leaders but are chosen by those chosen by the sponsoring organizations to represent the sponsoring organization at the council level and the best organized sponsoring organizations are …

    And then there is the whole matter of atheists. I’m watching what the Guides and Scouts are doing in the UK since things may be changing there (more likely I suspect with the Guides than the Scouts but both are promising).

  • Nice Try

    Only requires a three word reply to BSA:


  • corps_suk

    If they’re a private organization then the fight is eliminating public money from them. In accepting everyones freedom and individual rights we shouldn’t be forcing them to accept Atheists or Gays, but stopping them from using public resources to discriminate.

    We are fighting the wrong fight to force inclusion.

  • Bill Santagata

    I really don’t understand who this policy would please.

  • Kengi

    It’s not “fine”, it’s just “legal”. It’s far from being fine.

  • Kengi

    The Girl Scouts should change their name, become coed, and be the de facto scouting organization for the US. The BSA would then wither on the vine.

  • chicago dyke

    no one. and that’s exactly how it was meant.

    just get them off the federal/state teat. they can discriminate and pray all they like. i’m just sick of paying for it.

  • A3Kr0n

    Too many past transgressions for me.

  • Kengi

    You speak as if this is a fight from the outside to force the BSA to change. That’s the false message the fundies are putting out. The reality is that the impetus for change is coming from within the organization with support from without.

    Yes, “they” can do as they want as a private organization, but “they” are not a monolithic block.

    People from outside the BSA are just supporting different factions within the BSA.

  • gg

    The Girl Scouts of America is a completely separate organization. They have never been a part of the BSA, and do not have the homophobic anti-atheist baggage of the boys’ organization. To the disdain of bigots everywhere, the GSA is a famously inclusive organization. There is also the Girls Club of America. They are neither homophobic nor anti-atheist, and promote equal rights for girls. Girls have much better choices than the boys do, nevertheless, I would never allow my sons to join the BSA, even if it were the only game in town.

  • corps_suk

    No it is “fine”, in order to truly accept freedom and individuality we have to be fine with other peoples choices, if we expect them to be fine with ours. So long as public resources don’t support their choices it is “fine”, otherwise you risk being a judge of peoples choices and become as bad and as hypocritical as fundies who think its “legal” to be gay, but not “fine”

  • corps_suk

    It doesn’t matter where the fight is coming from, though its on multiple fronts so don’t be so simplistic, forcing a private group to be inclusive violates that groups freedoms as much as using a public group to exclusive. Simply treating the BSA like a private organization and removing any public funding should be the goal of any fight from outside groups. If people from the inside want to force inclusion then that is their battle…mine is simply to respect their freedoms and cut their public funding.

  • corps_suk

    Think you missed his point…BECAUSE of the reasons you stated the GSA should drop,the “Girl” from their name and just become Scouts of America and use their open inclusion to attract boys of all stripes. This is competition of ideas to BSA and would cause the BSA to lose membership.

  • Brian Westley

    Unfortunately, the way the BSA and the GSUSA is set up, it’s impossible without having congress remove the BSA’s chapter 36 exclusive rights.

  • Immanuel Goldstein

    @corps_suk So we should accept someone who is a white supremecist? Freedom of thought and expression does not mean you don’t get to judge other people’s choices, so long as you don’t actively interfere with them

  • Brian Westley

    By the way, would you know when the UK guides and scouts would make that decision?

  • Immanuel Goldstein

    No, it does not violate the group’s freedoms. If they take a position, they take everything that comes with it, including the bad opinion of others and pressures to change it. If the Boy Scouts as a collective choose to be homophobic, then they take the consequences, including the refusal of private charities to support them.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    So, according to the BSA does a gay man that turns 18 automatically become a threat to their fellow scouts? Straight men are the highest rate of abusers and will abuse younger boys because of the thrill of the power.

    I hate to break it to the BSA and the right-wing bigots, but I AM NOT INTERESTED in prepubescent or post-pubescent boys. Hell, I go for guys in their 30s.

  • Erp

    Well they could probably keep the word ‘Girl’ and still include boys (the BSA afterall does include girls in venturing); however, I suspect a bigger problem is on the international front; if it goes co-ed, it should affiliate with WOSM in addition to WAGGGS; however, WOSM only recognizes one organization per country and I don’t see the BSA allowing any change in who represents the US.

    Also the BSA is already losing youth membership, 22% since 1999 (the GSUSA is also but at a far lower rate).

  • Conuly

    How about any of the other scouting organizations out there, such as Campfire or Spiral Scouts?

  • Erp

    Well they probably will make them at different times since they started at different times; they may even produce a few different versions of the promise and have the members vote. I’m judging the Guides as more likely because of what I’ve read on some Guiding boards and also because Australia and Canada have paved the way (in addition the Guides don’t require (as oppose to encourage) that youth members say the promise except to reach the highest ranks so they already have many atheists on board). I do like that both canvassed the youth members for their views as well as adults (the BSA didn’t, they just asked parents and did a survey of youth 16-18 [not sure whether the surveyed group had to be scouts]).

  • Kengi

    Tolerance of intolerance isn’t tolerance.

  • Erp

    The BSA (as oppose to some of their supporters) has been careful not to officially say that gays are are more likely to abuse boys since they know that will be shot down by the evidence; it only says that they are not morally straight and therefore cannot be leaders (and by BSA definition all adult volunteers are leaders). So yes the moment a gay scout turns 18 he is out (with the possible exception of those with major disabilities who have been granted an extension to finish their Eagle).

  • Kengi

    You are the one who is over-simplifying the situation.

    If the impetus for change is coming from within a group, how is that “forcing a private group” to do anything? By complaining about the BSA policies and supporting people inside the BSA who are fighting for change, how am I “forcing” the BSA to do anything?

    Also, by telling me I don’t have the right to support those people in the BSA who are fighting for change and asking for support, you are restricting my freedom as well as theirs.

    You have a very insular and warped view of freedom.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    This person probably thinks civil rights legislation shouldn’t have forced ‘private’ businesses to stop blatantly discriminating too.

  • Kengi

    I thought the GSA was already better established with more members than the groups you mentioned. They also are already widely known for their wonderful inclusive policies. They are a model which any group would do well to emulate. They seem the natural choice to absorb the membership of the BSA.

  • Kengi


  • Kengi

    Which means it’s not impossible.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    The TV show ‘The New Normal’ had a great episode a few weeks ago about the ‘Boy Scouts ban gay leaders’ problem.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    The TV show ‘The New Normal’ had a great episode a few weeks ago about the ‘Boy Scouts ban gay leaders’ problem.

  • Anna

    At the very least, the GSA could make it an option to start co-ed troops. They could still have all-girl troops, but also form others to absorb those excluded by the BSA.

  • corps_suk

    Yes, if we are true to freedom then we have to accept that others hold different views, and white supremecy is one of those views. If you want to judge people expeession of their freedoms, so be it, but it makes you just as bad as those who judge you.

  • corps_suk

    But we cannot stop them from having their views regardless of what you think of their views. Let them have consequences just like we have to let them have their ideas.

  • corps_suk

    Sure it is. We can argue with their ideas, but we cannot force them to stop having them. There is a huge difference.
    No one has the right to to be offended, you, me, or them…but we have the right not to be forced to believe certain things, and so do they. So argue away, I do, but if we use public resources to force people to share our opinions I will fight that too…

  • corps_suk

    Right, why do we get to use government to force people to do things they don’t want to do?
    If you truly respect individual freedoms you would get that, if you simply think your right and can use government to force people to agree with you then you don’t understand freedom.

  • wmdkitty

    When your freedom infringes on other people’s rights, damn straight the government gets to force you to change.

    Or would you argue that, say, disabled people don’t have the right to access public accommodations? (After all, the ADA “forced” businesses to be wheelchair accessible…)

  • C Peterson

    It’s not a question of forcing anything. It’s a question of applying social pressure, both from within the organization and from outside it. Do you also disagree with the concept of commercial boycotts?

    The BSA has a history and infrastructure that many consider worth preserving. What’s wrong with using tools of social change to try and fix what is broken with the Scouts? It isn’t necessary that the leadership genuinely believe in new policies. They can change due to pressure, and the next generation of leaders will consider those policies beyond question. Society itself tends to change the same way.

  • Heidi McClure

    So who should get a voice in this fight, according to you? Just the top level Mormons? The leaders? The current membership? Former scouts?

    My son went through Cub Scouts from Tigers to Arrow of Light, plus did a couple years of Boy Scouts. Do he or I get a say? Does my daughter’s gay friend who was in Boy Scouts with my son get a say? Do current leaders and members who are LGBTQ or non-theists get a say? Parents who are considering allowing their sons to join?

  • corps_suk

    But you dont have a “right” to join a private organization, so they have a “right” to control their membership and leadersip, provided they take no public money.

  • corps_suk

    Right, i agree totally in using whatever personal power we have as free people, boycotts, protests, even petitioning government to stop subsidizing them. I think you misunderstand my stance on that.
    What I don’t agree with is using government to either force them to change or force them to accept people into their organization whom they don’t agree with, as they have the same inherent freedom we do.
    Thats all.

  • wmdkitty

    Ah, but the BSA does receive public money, so your argument is moot!

  • corps_suk

    I too went through BSA through life scout, as a closet atheist constantly arguing against having to go to “nondenominational” service, what is your point on that?
    The people in charge of the organization get the say, if you as a member don’t like it and you have voiced your concern and they choose not to listen then your regress is to withdraw your membership and use your personal freedoms to express their need to change.
    Provided we can eliminate public funding, they have every right to control their membership as you have every right to protest it, what you cannot do IMO is use government to force people to accept something they deem inappropriate. I would be furious is someone tried to use government to force me to accept belief in my private life or public realm.
    But no, if the leadership doesnt want to listen to you, me, or prospective parents they don’t have to, freedom goes both ways and you don’t have a right to join a fully private organization or hold a leadership spot in it.
    Why would you want to be in a private organization tha doesn’t want anyway?

  • corps_suk

    NO its not, that is actually the POINT of my argument, let them be free to do what they want so long as we stop the public funding. Our fight shouldn’t be to join an organization that doesn’t want us, it should be accept their freedom and remove public money from their organization so they can be.

  • SeekerLancer

    Why make one group happy when you can make both groups mad!

  • Feminerd

    Nonono. Everyone is entitled to their own views. They’re not entitled to have a platform to share those views. They’re not entitled to respect if people don’t like their views. They’re not entitled to be free from judgment. All they’re entitled to is their own views and the right to say them.

    I am absolutely within my rights and good ethics to say that someone who is a white supremacist is a bad person that I will not spend time with. I’m not being judgmental and I’m not being intolerant when I do so, because I am removing myself from the presence of toxic viewpoints (and quite possibly physical harm, given that white supremacists are quite often also anti-Semitic). Nothing protects you from the consequences of your own noxious words and deeds, so long as there is no state interference and no crime committed.

    So I accept that other people have views different from mine. I do not accept that some of those views are right, have value equal to mine, or are in any way acceptable views to hold. It’s not “fine” to be a white supremacist, ever, even if you have the right to do it. It’s never fine to be a bad person, even if it’s legal.

  • SeekerLancer

    I kind of agree. If they didn’t, accept public money I really wouldn’t care what they did.

  • corps_suk

    “They’re not entitled to have a platform to share those views”
    Sure they are, just remember everything you say about peoples lack of freedoms can be said about you.
    “They’re not entitled tgo be free from judgment.”
    And neither are you, if you judge them you become as judgmental as they are.
    “I am absolutely within my rights and good ethics to say that someone who is a white supremacist is a bad person”
    And they would say the same thing about atheists and gays, they consider them bad people and don’t want them around their kids

  • Anna

    I saw that one. Too bad their shows about religion were not nearly as good. It’s telling how differently Ryan Murphy handled the Catholic church and the BSA.

  • Feminerd

    No one has to hang out with me or be friends with me. No government has to give me a platform for my views, they just can’t stop me. I know plenty of people who do, in fact, think atheists are evil and stop hanging out with me or get all weird around me (I live in the South). Yeah, it hurts, but they can do that. They just can’t refuse to serve me in a restaurant or teach my children or renew my driver’s license or anything like that. If you want to call me judgmental because I think sexists, racists, anti-Semites, and homophobes are wrong and also commonly shitty people, I really don’t mind. The wrong part isn’t judgmental, but the shitty people bit surely is.

    The difference, and it is a key one, is that white supremacists don’t get federal money. BSA does. And you know what else? Government has done nothing to pressure the BSA except to threaten to remove their money, which they can do. All the pressure has been from private citizens and corporate sponsors, which are legitimate sources of public pressure. BSA does have special privileges- those could be revoked and they be treated like any other private organization if they don’t stop being homophobic and atheophobic (ie violating federal laws). The money stops flowing, I stop caring. Or not stop caring, but stop being involved and relegate the BSA to the same corner of my mind as NOM and the Susan B. Anthony List anti-feminists.

    I will say that freedom is not absolute. Inability to, say, stay at hotels that are privately owned is rightly considered an infringement of personal liberty, even if that infringes on private property rights. Corporations are prevented from polluting willy-nilly. Governments have the right to prevent harm to people; that includes preventing hostile environments in workplaces and schools but not public fora. It’s not nearly so simple as private/public or physical harm.

  • DougI

    If the Boy Scouts still discriminate against Atheists but not gays don’t expect the public pressure for the Boy Scouts to change. Atheists are still viewed by many as the acceptable group to universally hate and discriminate against.

  • Anna

    That’s my fear. As soon as the gay issue goes away, I worry that atheist exclusion will be completely ignored. The mainstream media is only focused on sexual orientation. You can read many articles about BSA discrimination that do not even mention us.

  • Kengi

    Who here said the government should force the BSA to change their policy? You mean you’ve been arguing against a positions that no one here had?

    Stick to arguing with the voices in your head since you don’t seem to understand how to have a dialog about a complex topic on a forum.

  • Kengi

    Individual freedoms often conflict with one another. One of the purposes of a government is to enforce an equitable set of rules to resolve such conflicts. When you see only your freedoms and not the freedoms of others, you have just discovered privilege.

  • Kengi

    Yet you keep complaining about “forcing” whenever someone talks about using such pressures. If you don’t understand the words being used, then look them up before ranting about things no one here is asking to be done. Or are you just copy/pasting your arguments off some libertarian website hoping they somehow will apply to what people are discussing here?

    If you keep it up I’ll assume you are just trolling and ask the moderator to ban you.

  • corps_suk

    “Stick to arguing with the voices in your head”
    Really? Thats your argument, how profound and complex…

    As for real complexity, it appears you are the one that doesn’t get it as you totally didn’t grasp my topic…its ok tough kiddo, you can try again.

  • Kengi

    Seems like you missed the paragraph immediately in front of that and prefer to keep arguing against your strawman. Doesn’t surprise me.

    Yeah, looks like nothing but a troll…

  • corps_suk

    “Individual freedoms often conflict with one another”

    “When you see only your freedoms and not the freedoms of others, you have just discovered privilege.”
    Funny, thats your position. You don’t respect the BSA to have their own freedoms to find gays icky and atheists undesirable. They have that freedom if they start a club, just like I have the freedom to think they are imbeciles and could start a club where jesus freaks weren’t welcome…isn’t freedom great.

    Kinda quaint you don’t get it.

  • corps_suk

    And you seemed to have missed kitty’s insightful input…keep it up champ, you’re making me chuckle.

  • Kengi

    Where did I say the BSA doesn’t have that freedom? Oh yeah, in your head again…

  • corps_suk

    Sigh…there is a reason liberal and libertarian share the root word liberty, i will let you figure it out.
    Why would the moderator ban me for not agreeing with your simple views? “me right, you wrong, mommy help!” too funny

    If we truly respect freedom and liberty, we have to respect that no one has the right NOT to be offended. They can have their views,you can have yours, and I can have mine. So the BSA is allowed to determine who they want around their kids just like I can determine that christian fundies aren’t allowed around mine, in order for me to behave the way I want, I have to respect that others can behave how they want, otherwise I would be a hypocrite like you appear to be.

  • Kengi

    I see wmdkitty making the same argument about balancing the rights of different people, and saying that since the BSA is being publically supported they don’t have the right to discriminate.

    You then agree with wmdkitty while still claiming no one understands you. Honestly, do you ever read the post you are replying to?

  • corps_suk

    Come on back when you have a point troll.

  • Kengi

    Who’s talking about offense? Trolling is not the same as disagreeing. Again, try looking up the words before you reply. Maybe you should ask your parents to buy a dictionary for you.

  • corps_suk

    Go for it troll, look it up kiddo.

  • Kengi

    Once again, slowly.

    Where did I say (other than in your head) the BSA shouldn’t have the freedom to restrict membership?

  • Kengi

    Once again, slowly.

    Where did I say the BSA shouldn’t have the freedom to restrict membership?

  • wmdkitty

    You’re a special snowflake, aren’t you?

    Again, their rights end (or are modified) when they infringe on the rights of others.

    Since the BSA receives public funding, there are certain basic standards they must adhere to.

  • corps_suk

    “their rights end (or are modified) when they infringe on the rights of others”
    But people don’t have a right to not be offended and they don’t have a right to join a private club, so…my original point,
    “BSA receives public funding, there are certain basic standards they must adhere to”
    Then remove their public funding…

    p.s. the little digs make you pathetic and out of real arguments, typical from someone so shallow they can’t even comprehend the “other side”

  • tsh1971

    No Corps_suk, often “private” organizations don’t have a right to discriminate against certain groups. Rotary Clubs, more “private” than the BSA, were required by a 1987 US Supreme Court decision to admit women as members. So even “private” groups who receive no public money are required to in some cases follow non-discrimination laws.

  • corps_suk

    Not so, that ruling had to do with the inclusion of outside groups and the use of the clubs to carry put business in the public sphere, which was in violation of California law at that point. Selective membership for a private organization not engaged in business or trade is still legal as the constitution doesn’t grant that power to the government.

    “In the 5-4 decision, Boy Scouts v. Dale, the court said: “The forced inclusion of an unwanted person in a group infringes the group’s freedom of expressive association if the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.”” Thats first amendment rights right there…association.

    However, as stated the constitution does grant the power of the purse to the government, and through that we can at least dry up their public funding leaving the BSA free as a truly private club to discriminate without government support.

  • rgcustomer

    Will they also accept girls and transgender people at all levels?

  • Scouter Mike

    I’m a Scout leader in Canada. Scouts Canada not only allows gays leader and Scouts but allows girls to join as well. It’s a great organization and more children (and parents) should be encouraged to join.

    As for religion, I’m not a believer in any religion but I respect to have their beliefs and I would never impose my non belief on anyone. Scouts Canada only requires a acknowledgement in a higher power. For me it’s this universe we’ve all found ourselves in.

    Children today need to know about their natural world, get away from the videos and computers and have real world fun. The adventures they had in Scouts will be the ones they tell their children about.

    I hope US Scouting opens up its program so all children can enjoy it.

  • SabsDkPrncs

    And every blog seems to be reporting it as a foregone conclusion, that this policy will be adopted. I think that it is far from likely that the scout leaders will vote to adopt this policy, but then the national council can still say, “Look, we tried, don’t hate us.”