Following a long day of speculation regarding the outcome, Dallas television stations announced on their evening news reports that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) late Thursday afternoon had voted almost two to one to overturn a long-standing membership policy. The secret ballot, by approximately 1,400 voting delegates to the BSA national meeting in Grapevine, Texas, will sanction full membership for openly gay scouts, allowing them to participate fully in troop activities; but it stops short of allowing gay leaders.
The vote on May 23 followed an almost four-month-long period of study conducted by the organization with headquarters in Irving, Texas. Prior to the vote the consensus nationally was simply that “the boys don’t care,” according to all news reports.
The public controversy erupted in late January 2013 when word was leaked that a change might be considered by the BSA leadership. Its membership policies, over the years, have faced not only criticism, but also a number of lawsuits over its stated requirements; the organization has always prevailed.
The proposed change in policy at that time would have authorized a “local option” policy defined by each troop’s chartering organization. BSA Director of Public Relations Deron Smith at the time countered criticism of that proposal by saying it was only one of several alternatives under discussion. The firestorm of protest it ignited, however, was quieted only when the national organization agreed to embark on a months-long poll and discussion with its membership; scheduling a vote during the planned meeting of its 1,400 national directors this month.
The change at this time was prompted in part by a petition drive initiated in response to the removal of a lesbian leader in the Midwest. Even though in 2000 the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the organization’s right to define its own requirements for members and for leaders, its policies have drawn increasing criticism over the years.
Today’s decision, it seems, will not stop that criticism, with some parents saying publicly they will pull their boys from the scouting program because of the decision. Most reaction, however, was favorable, following the decision this afternoon. One reaction from a North Dallas resident was that the next step would be to allow leaders to participate in the program, “regardless of sexual orientation.”
Boy Scouts of America is the largest private membership organization for boys in the United States. The organization was incorporated in 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916 to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness.