The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the only major national youth organization that actively discriminates against would-be members and volunteers based on sexual orientation, has agreed to reconsider its policy — a potentially huge shift for the 102-year-old organization.
In 1990, Eagle Scout James Dale was removed from his position as an assistant scoutmaster — despite having attained Boy Scouting’s highest rank — after the organization learned he was gay. He challenged the decision in court, under New Jersey’s state non-discrimination laws, but, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that as a private organization, Boy Scouts of America was free to discriminate as much as it wanted to.
While the decision was, on its face, a win for BSA, the group’s discriminatory policy against gay scouts (and non-theists) has come at a great cost to the organization. United Way chapters across the country stopped funding the organization and membership declined significantly.
In recent weeks, the nation was reminded of the BSA’s discrimination after it ousted an Ohio mom from her position as a Cub Scout leader because she is a lesbian. GLAAD circulated and Eagle Scout and pro-equality activist Zach Wahls delivered a Change.org online petition calling for her reinstatement, with more than 275,000 signatures.
The Associated Press reported today that the organization has agreed to consider a new policy for 2013 that would allow local Scouting groups to decide for themselves whether to accept gay members and leaders, but no official decision will likely be made until May 2013.
Though a BSA spokesman notes that there is no guarantee the policy will actually be changed, the group’s mere consideration of the matter after decades of intransigence represents a significant step.