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Boy Scouts FAQ
Boy Scouts FAQ
Want to know more about what just happened with the Boy Scouts of America, and how it might affect you as a Unitarian Universalist? Here's our handy list of frequently asked questions about the BSA and its membership policies. - Ed.  

What's all this about, anyways?

Following an extensive review, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization of 2.7 million scouts across the country, voted to change its decades-old policy of excluding gay scouts and leaders. The new national policy, which all local troops must follow, is that "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." However, there is no change to the BSA policy preventing anyone over 18 who is lesbian, gay or bisexual from being an adult scout or a leader. It also means that gay scouts will be kicked out at age 18, even if they are a week away from becoming an Eagle Scout.

So is this partial change a good thing?

Groups actively promoting the change, like Scouts for Equality (headlined by UU Eagle Scout Zach Wahls), have applauded the decision and described this as an "important step forward," while declaring that their "work will continue." Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales said in a statement that the "decision falls short of affirming the worth and dignity of all who would like to participate in scouting." Reactions from faith leaders have been mixed. The Southern Baptist Convention, whose churches support 4000 local units and 100,000 scouts, is poised to recommend its churches cut ties  to the BSA as a result of this policy change.

Aren't the Boy Scouts a secular group? Why is all this talk about churches and the BSA?

Scouting includes an explicit commitment to faithfulness, and offers emblems for religious achievement. Additionally, the BSA reports that 70% of its local troops are housed or supported by religious organizations. While there has always been an historic connection between the Boy Scouts and faith communities, the link was intensified after the BSA won a 2000 case in the US Supreme Court that allowed it to continue a policy of discrimination because it is a private membership organization, and many local public supporters began to distance themselves from the Boy Scouts. Today, particularly strong supporters of the BSA include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), United Methodist and Catholic churches, who contribute about 1 million scouts combined. In its materials on the membership change, the BSA noted that altering the policy on adult members would be opposed by some of its most influential faith partners: "Many religious chartered organizations stated their concern is with homosexual adult leaders and not with youth. They estimate a membership policy change that includes both youth and adults could cause the BSA to incur membership losses in a range from 100,000 to 350,000. It is believed any gain in membership because of a change to the membership policy related to youth and adults would be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 youth."

Does the UUA support the Boy Scouts?

The UUA has had long standing disagreements with the BSA, both because of its policy of discrimination around sexuality as well as the requirement to take an oath to god that excludes scouts who are agnostic, atheist or hold other beliefs. There is no official UUA recommendation or policy for local congregations around supporting or participating in the BSA, and indeed many local UU congregations and individual UU's do participate in scouting. The BSA's recent membership change does not alter this arrangement. Note that the UUA's relationship with the BSA is completely different from our communications with the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), which has promoted much more inclusive values in its policies.

Is there anything I can do?

Unitarian Universalists across the country, within and outside of the BSA, have worked to shift the Boy Scouts' membership policy. If you care about scouting you can join their continuing fight for equality within the BSA. There are also alternative scouting organizations that you can join if you want to participate in an organization more in line with UU principles and values.

About the Author

  • Carey McDonald is the UUA's Executive Vice President. He's a lifelong UU who has worked in nonprofit, government, political and progressive organizations. He lives Medford, MA with his wife, Sarah and two sons, Julian and Hosea.

Comments (9) (Open)

Sally Hartman (not verified) 5 years 2 months ago

One of the leaders of the movement to allow gays in Boy Scouts, is Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout, whose mothers were scout leaders. His book, My Two Moms, tells about his scouting experiences and growing up with two moms in general. Zach has also been active in promoting Marriage Equality in Iowa and other states. Zach grew up in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City and still attends when he is home.

Carey McDonald (not verified) 5 years 2 months ago

Thanks, Sally. Zach has been a great voice for our faith's values in the world. You can read an interview that Blue Boat did with him earlier this year here:

http://blueboat.blogs.uua.org/2012/11/08/zach-wahls-on-marriage-equality...

Kathy Smith (not verified) 5 years 2 months ago

Thank you for noting that the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts are two different organizations with different policies! Sometimes people get confused.

Also ... if a boy turns 18 before completing all the requirements and having the paperwork approved for his Eagle award, he is no longer eligible. It must be completed before his 18th birthday. Small detail, but it's something we used to really push the boys on as they got close to age 18. (Former BSA leader here.)

Thank you for putting this FAQ out there. It's really handy to be able to point people with questions to a blog post that answers them!

Current Scoutmaster (not verified) 5 years 2 months ago

This statement is not entirely correct. A Scout that has his Eagle Project signed, approved and completed with his Eagle Scout Rank application completed and signed before his 18th birthday can still have his board of review after his 18th birthday.
Unless a specific policy say's otherwise, this means that a Scout can have his project and his rank application completed, including signatures, and still not receive his Eagle Rank if he's openly gay and doesn't hold his board of review until after his 18th birthday.

Carey McDonald (not verified) 5 years 1 month ago

Thanks for that clarification!

Ken Mitchell (not verified) 5 years 2 months ago

"Unitarian Universalists across the country, within and outside of the BSA, have worked to shift the Boy Scouts’ membership policy."

That's exactly what we've been doing - working within the organization to support broader, inclusive policies. We're fortunate in that we live in an area of New Hampshire that is more inclusive and supportive. For example, our troop sent an open letter to the Scout District, with troop leader & parent signatures, asking for this policy to be changed.

I've come to discover that the implementation of some BSA policies can be determined at a local level. For example, the troop my son is involved with has been inclusive (for Scouts) for many years. We still have a ways to go in regards to supporting LGBT leaders, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

50 Years After ... (not verified) 4 years 12 months ago

[...] in support of AIW2 and efforts to resist “The New Jim Crow” society; Marriage Equality; LGBTQ membership in the Boy Scouts of America, Shareholder Advocacy, Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, Economic Justice, Immigration [...]

Opening Our Clo... (not verified) 4 years 5 months ago

[…] Fighting the Boy Scouts of America ban against gay scouts. […]

katherine (not verified) 3 years 8 months ago

Great article. Thanks for the info, it’s easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an Eagle Scout Rank Application form, I found a blank form here http://goo.gl/QeZQLR

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