How the Boy Scouts Implemented Their Landmark LGBT Policy

As of January 1, the youth scouting organization now has a policy allowing gay youths—and while LGBT groups continue to push for bigger steps, the move also created new competition for the 104-year-old organization.

As of January 1, the youth scouting organization officially has a policy allowing gay youths. What’s next? LGBT groups continue to push for additional steps, and the change has created new competition for the 104-year-old organization.

Months of work. Praise and controversy in equal measures. A consistent policy.

In the seven months since the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a long-standing ban on gay youths within its ranks, the organization has worked to codify and implement one of the most high-profile changes in scouting’s history.

While not everyone was happy with the result—and some left BSA in the process—the organization officially adopted its membership policy allowing LGBT youths on January 1. More details on the process and the impact of the change:

Implementing the standards: In setting its plans to implement the standard, the BSA released a training document to explain the issues to troop leaders. The document codifies who will, and will not, be allowed in the organization—the new policy leaves in place a prohibition on openly gay adult members—and clarifies points about the decision for organization leaders. “This change in membership standards is not a youth protection issue,” one clause in the document states. “To consider it a youth protection issue would lead one to believe that sexual abuse and victimization is considered inherent to same-sex attraction. This is not the case.” For some chapters, the new policy will change little—The Los Angeles Times notes that some local chapters allowed gay members prior to the decision—but for many, the change could be significant.

Cutting ties, starting fresh: While the decision has earned the praise of LGBT groups, it has put the organization at odds with some of its members. While religious groups affiliated with the BSA, such as Mormons and Catholics, have stayed on board despite concerns over the rule, at least one local chapter—a Washington state group that cited a conflict with biblical principles—has dropped its affiliation with BSA, and an alternative organization opposed to the policy change launched earlier this week. Trail Life USA, a Christian group that counts 500 troops among its membership, launched as the BSA was implementing its new rules. The group’s charter members, like many BSA troops, rely on church sponsors, and the organization includes statements such as this in its values statement: “We are to reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage, a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.” BSA spokesman Deron Smith told NBC News that while some groups have left, they represented less than 2 percent of the organization’s scouting units.

Pushing for bigger steps: On the other side of the debate, LGBT groups hope to open the organization further to allow for gay scouting leaders. “Opening membership to gay youth is an historic first step toward full equality in the BSA, but we’re not there yet,” Zach Wahls, the LGBT activist who cofounded Scouts for Equality, told ABC News. ”Scouts for Equality will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive membership policy, to help build a stronger, more inclusive Boy Scouts of America.” Wahls, a former Eagle Scout who grew up with same-sex parents, noted that LGBT Eagle Scouts would no longer be able to participate in the organization once they turn 18, because the new rules do not change the prohibition on gay adult members.

The organization, for its part, realizes the decision is controversial, but is focusing on the bigger picture.

“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in scouting,” Smith, the BSA spokesperson, told The Advocate in a statement.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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