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BSA's Policy on Homosexuals

  As most current and former Scouts and Scouters know, there is no place in the BSA's published literature which explicitly states that the BSA is open only to heterosexuals. Below are the documents the BSA has referred to in court and released to the public to defend their anti-gay discrimination policy:

  • A compilation of the 1978 memoranda to the BSA Executive Committee on BSA's policy toward homosexuals.
  • During the 1980's, as a result of Curran's lawsuit, BSA developed a Statement on Human Sexuality.
  • The 1991 internal memorandum outlining BSA's exclusionary position regarding gay youth and adults.
  • The 1991 memorandum also provided some Q&A and suggestions for responding to the news media and public for BSA professionals dealing with the media.
  • The 1991 policy was made public in 1992 in an issue of Scouting magazine (for adult leaders) and the Eagletter.
  • The 1991 policy was revised in 1993.
  • In February 2002, in response to a resolution introduced at the 2001 BSA annual meeting, the BSA Executive Board issued another resolution reaffirming their position on excluding gay youth/adults from the BSA .
  • The policy was silently revised sometime in 2004.
  • The most recent revision of the policy was in 2012.
  • In July 2012, the BSA's CSE and President wrote an op-ed defending the BSA's recent "emphatic reaffirmation" of its discriminatory policies.    

Click to go to the top of the page1978 Memoranda

     According to court documents and testimony in various legal cases, the "earliest document of the Boy Scouts which mentions homosexuals specifically" is a memorandum dated February 13, 1978 from the BSA's Director of Public Relations (Russ Bufkins) to Scout Executives on the subject of "Homosexual Unit Members." A second memorandum, dated March 17, 1978, is from the Chief Scout Executive and BSA President -- Harvey L. Price and Downing B. Jenks -- to the BSA Executive Committee.
     BSA testified that both memoranda were issued in response to inquiries asking that the BSA express "its official position to the field" on, among other things, the appointment of homosexual volunteer and professional leaders.
     The March 17, 1978 memorandum explained that, in the event that an individual involved in Scouting is alleged to be homosexual: "The matter should be investigated in a discreet and responsible fashion, with the utmost regard for the concerned individuals civil rights. " The impetus for these memoranda was the public revelation of the expulsion of two Explorer Scouts in Mankato, MN.
    At the beginning of 1978, Scott Ford, 17, and and Scott Vance, 16, "were kicked out of the Blue Earth County Law Enforcement Police Explorer Post 243 because of their homosexuality." According to news accounts, "their memberships with the group were not renewed for 1978, and that the police sergeant who is the post's adviser, Lowell Creel, asked them to leave because he feared reactions from parents of other members of the group."
     According to Ford, "I was shocked and hurt, as I had no idea the police even knew about my sexual preferences...There had been no sexual misconduct." He reported that "he was unaware the explorer group knew anything about his sexual life, but found out later that his mother had called the sergeant, 'seeking counseling for the boys.'" And instead of support and help, the BSA expelled them.
     Both young men took their expulsion before the Mankato Equal Opportunities Commission, but since the Mankato City Council, on 9 January 1978 had "narrowly rejected a motion for an amendment to the human rights ordinance which would have provided protection against discrimination for homosexuals," there was no recourse for the young men.
     Neither of these documents suggested that the presence of openly gay youth or adults are contrary to the Scout Oath or the Scout Law, or that gays are inappropriate role models. Rather, the March 17, 1978 memorandum states that "in the absence of any law [in the United States] to the contrary, the Boy Scouts would have to obey laws that prohibit discrimination against an individuals employment on the basis of homosexuality."
     In these memoranda, the BSA answered "no" to the question of whether "an individual who openly declares himself to be a homosexual" can be a volunteer Scout leader, and then adopted procedures that went beyond persons who had made open declarations. The BSA informed professionals that when situations arose involving homosexuals they should use procedures from "Maintaining Standards of Leadership,"  -- a document that explains how to investigate and to exclude persons from Scouting when they are alleged to be involved in crimes, child molestation or other offenses. The March 17, 1978 memorandum also explained that, "in the event that an individual involved in Scouting is alleged to be a homosexual":  "The matter should be investigated in a discreet and responsible fashion, with the utmost regard for the concerned individual's civil rights."
     There is no suggestion in these documents -- or, as it turns out, in any BSA document pre-dating 1991 -- that the reason homosexuals are inappropriate for Scouting is that homosexuality is contrary to the Scout Oath or the Scout Law, or that homosexuals cannot be appropriate role models, or that homosexuality contradicts some concept of "traditional family values" that is supposed to be part of Scouting, or even that the BSA would take the position that, in the event a law were found to apply to them, they have a constitutional right to discriminate where others do not. To the contrary, the March 17, 1978 memorandum states:

    Q: Should a professional or non-professional individual who openly declares himself to be a homosexual be terminated?

    A: Yes, in the absence of any law to the contrary. At the present time we are unaware of any statute or ordinance in the United States which prohibits discrimination against individual's employment upon the basis of homosexuality. In the event that such a law was applicable, it would be necessary for the Boy Scouts of America to obey it. . . .

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICAClick to go to the top of the page
National Office
1325 Walnut Hill Lane
P.O. Box 152079, Irving, Texas 75015-2079


June 24, 1991


From: J. Carey Keane, National Director of Relationships/Marketing

To: Regional Directors
      Area Directors
      Scout Executives
      Division Directors

     As you know, the BSA currently is involved in various legal issues; issues that include atheism, girls in Scouting and homosexuality. The media has been covering these rather extensively, with the usual debate of pros and cons.

     Since many of you have been, and may continue to be, approached by local media, we thought it would be beneficial to provide a comprehensive package of information. The attached includes:

    - Overall suggestions on responding to the media and to the public, as well as a pamphlet on "Unacceptables" that can be used to "bridge" discussions to the positive things the BSA is doing to resolve issues.

    - Position statements and questions and answers on:

        - Duty to God
        - Girls in Scouting
        - Homosexuality

     If you need further information, please contact Blake Lewis at Edeknan Worldwide at (214) 520-3555 or Jeff Sacks, Division Director, External Communications at (214) 580-2271.

POSITION STATEMENTClick to go to the top of the page


     For more than 80 years, the Boy Scouts of America has brought the moral values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law to American boys, helping them to achieve the objectives of Scouting.

     The Boy Scouts of America also places strong emphasis on traditional family values as being necessary components of a strong, healthy society. The Scouting program is designed to be a shared, family experience.

     We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirements in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.

     Because of these beliefs, the Boy Scouts of America does not accept homosexuals as members or as leaders, whether in volunteer or professional capacities.

     Our position on this issue is based solely upon our desire to provide the appropriate environment and role models which reflect Scouting's values and beliefs.

     As a private membership organization, we believe our right to determine the qualifications of our members and leaders is protected by the Constitution of the United States.



Click to go to the top of the page

Q. May an individual who openly declares himself to be a homosexual be a volunteer Scout leader or member?

A. No. The Boy Scouts of America is a private membership organization and leadership therein is a privilege and not a right. We believe that homosexual conduct is not compatible with the aims and purposes of Scouting and that it does not present a desirable role model for the youth in our program. We will continue to select only those who in our judgment meet our standards and qualifications for membership.

Q. May a group of individuals who openly profess to be homosexuals obtain a unit charter?

A. No. As in the case with membership, a Boy Scouts of America unit  charter is a privilege and not a right. We reserve the right to grant or withhold charters upon the basis of the aims and purposes of the Scouting program.

Q. Are you implying by your policy that homosexuals do not have good moral or emotional character?

A. Our position is that they do not present a role model which is set forth in detail in the publication Maintaining Standards of Membership.

Q. What procedure should be followed in the event that an individual involved in Scouting is alleged to be a homosexual?

A. The matter should be investigated in a discreet and responsible fashion, with the utmost regard for the concerned individual's civil rights.

Q. What procedure should be followed in the event that a professional or non-professional employee is arrested and charged with an offense involving public morals?

A. The council representative should respectfully decline to comment or to take any action without the advice of the council's attorney. Any comment, speculation, or volunteering of gratuitous information may be prejudicial to the civil rights of the accused ... and under certain conditions, could lead to a suit for damages.

A Matter of Values
From "Eagletter -- Journal of the National Eagle Scout Association" Volume 18, Click to go to the top of the pageNumber 2, Summer 1992

For the past eighty-two years, the Boy Scouts of America has placed before America's youth a consistent set of traditional family values for them to consider and, we hope, adopt as they grow into adult citizens of our nation. Throughout its history, Scouting has maintained, through good and bad times, its values and its independence as a private organization. One of the rights of a private organization, protected under our nation's Constitution, is that of setting leadership standards that reflect the values of its membership.

The United Way of the San Francisco Bay Area has received the report of its Boy Scout Task Force. The recommendations of that task force is an ultimatum to the entire Boy Scouts of America. Two options are presented to the Boy Scouts by this task force report:

    1. That the BSA review, consider and change its position of disallowing homosexuals to be members or leaders

    2. That the six local councils obtain an exception from the national BSA position on a pilot basis, to adopt a local policy that allows homosexuals in the Bay Area to become members or leaders.

The Boy Scouts of America has no quarrel with the homosexual community. Scouting respects their rights, within the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, to live their lifestyle, just as Scouting respects the rights of other groups. It is therefore reasonable for Scouting to expect its rights to be respected and protected. What Scouting has stood for throughout its history remains unchanged.

The principles of the BSA are not and cannot be for sale to the United Way of the Bay Area in San Francisco. Values, principles, and standards by definition cannot be compromised or negotiated for any purpose, least of all money. Scouting has received the financial support to enable it to sustain itself throughout its history because of its values, principles, and standards.

At its February meeting, the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America voted unanimously to reaffirm its position regarding homosexuality. The position is that the Boy Scouts of America does not permit avowed homosexuals to be registered as leaders or members in the BSA. This position was upheld in May 1991 by the Superior Court in Los Angeles.

   In its Position Statement dated January 1993,  the BSA stated in part:Click to go to the top of the page

    The Boy Scouts of America does not ask prospective members about their sexual preference, nor do we check on the sexual orientation of boys who are already Scouts.

    The reality is that Scouting serves children who have no knowledge of, or interest in, sexual preference. We allow youth to live as children and enjoy Scouting and its diversity without immersing them in the politics of the day.

    Membership in Scouting is open to all youth who meet basic requirements for membership and who agree to live by the applicable oath and law.

    The Boy Scouts of America has always reflected the expectations that Scouting families have had for the organization.

    We do not believe that homosexuals provide a role model consistent with these expectations.

    Accordingly, we do not allow for the registration of avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders of the BSA.


Included with the 1991 memorandum, was the following:Click to go to the top of the page

Suggestions for responding to the news media and public


    For over 81 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been helping shape future citizen-leaders of the United States.

    However, the very values and ideals that have made the BSA successful in its mission has been questioned by a few individuals in recent years.

    The purpose of this document is to share suggestions for responding to local media inquiries on the issues of atheism, girls and homosexuality and Scouting.

Common Elements of the Issues...

    The issues of atheism, girls and homosexuality share several common elements (challenge to BSA's right to freedom of association; limited, high-profile challenges in each area, an appeal to emotions; potential image of "shaking the traditional organization").

    Despite similarities. each issue should be discussed as a separate challenge. Reporters may initially call about one of the three issues, but then move into one or both of the other issues. However, each issue or specific challenge to an issue should be addressed individually. We want to avoid an appearance that the fundamentals of the BSA are being challenged.

    A common theme frequently brought up by reporters is change. This may be particularly evident in any story referenced as being about "the BSA in the '90s". The BSA is an interesting study in contrasts...program elements and approaches may change (the new "Handbook", the Unacceptables Relevancy program, new merit badges, etc.), but the values inherent to Scouting (as stated in the Oath and Law) serve as the bedrock of the BSA.

Be Prepared...

*Be familiar with background information on the issues:

  • Any challenges to the BSA's religious principles within the Council?
  • Any suspension of members or leaders because of homosexuality?
  • Any past experience with girls seeking admission to Council units? Likely, there will be little history in these areas. If there is information on the past, be prepared to share it BRIEFLY and FACTUALLY.

*Know the Council's past relationship with the reporter and the outlet. Any experience with either? Past contacts may indicate what you can expect from this encounter.

*Do not feel compelled to immediately accept a phone call from a reporter. Find out the reporter's deadline and ask if you can return his or her call when you can give your undivided attention.

*Clear your desk and your mind prior to contact with the reporter.

*Have your agenda ready. Be familiar with the points you want to make in the interview.

*If you have delayed the interview to better prepare for it, make sure you return the reporter's call as soon as possible and don't miss the deadline.

In an Interview ...

  • Determine what key points you want to make in the interview and make them.
  • Be concise. Rambling answers invite editing out of context.
  • Be factual. If there's been a past problem in the council, provide the facts and then bridge to what's been done to resolve the situation and enhance Scouting.
  • You can't be expected to speak about situations in other councils. Refer those questions to the council in question or to Edelman Worldwide.
  • Speak with conviction.
  • Bridge, or transition, the conversation to the positive work that the BSA and your council have done. Build on Scouting's excellent reputation for service to young people and the community at large.
  • The same questions may be asked different ways to obtain different answers. Be consistent in your response, no matter how many times asked.
  • Don't speculate on "what if" type questions. That is asking you to deal with hypothetical issues, not the facts at hand.
  • Use only one spokesperson for the local council.
  • Direct any media questions about national policy or practice to Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (see next page).


Several resources are available to assist in handling local inquiries.

  • Position statements provide the national stance on key issues. Information from these statements can serve as the framework for developing local responses to media or public inquiries. Position statements are not designed for direct distribution to volunteers, media or the public at large.
  • In using a position statement, select elements that respond to a particular situation or inquiry. The order in which ideas are presented should follow the line of questioning, not the order provided in the statement.
  • Questions and answers documents offer the questions that reporters and others might logically ask, along with suggested responses that are based on information from the position statement. Again, it is suggested that these remain as internal documents.
  • Unacceptables Relevancy program materials (blue folder) details the BSA's proactive attack on the social concerns of hunger, drug abuse, child abuse, illiteracy and hunger. Many interview settings (BSA in the '90s, Relevancy of the BSA in our Society, Child Abuse, Values of the BSA, etc.) lend themselves to bridging to the Unacceptables and what the BSA is doing to improve society in these areas.
  • Council records and history provide local data generally sought by the media. Frequently, local stories on controversial national issues become less attractive to local reporters and editors when local trends don't support the national statistics. For example, if a council has never had a case of an atheist seeking admission into Scouting, the local angle on a national "duty to God" story doesn't exist. (See also 'Turning a Negative into a Positive)

National Council Public Relations assistance is available from Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (214-520-3555). Please do not hesitate to contact the following individuals for assistance:

Blake Lewis/Caytie Daniell
Greg Bustin

Click to go to the top of the page

     The following policy statement was posted on the website in 2004:

"Morally Straight"

In the Scout Oath, a Scout promises to be "morally straight," and in the Scout Law he promises to be "clean."

The Boy Scout Handbook (11th ed.) explains "morally straight" as "To be a person of strong character, your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs. The values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance."

The Handbook explains "clean" as "A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards. He helps keep his home and community clean."


  • Volunteer Adult Leadership
    Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. Scouting's position with respect to homosexual conduct accords with the moral positions of many millions of Americans and with religious denominations to which a majority of Americans belong . Because of these views, Boy Scouts of America believes that a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys.
  • Employment
    With respect to positions limited to professional Scouters or, because of their close relationship to the mission of Scouting, positions limited to registered members of the Boy Scouts of America, acceptance of the Declaration of Religious Principle, the Scout Oath, and the Scout Law is required. Accordingly, in the exercise of its constitutional right to bring the values of Scouting to youth members, Boy Scouts of America will not employ atheists, agnostics, known or avowed homosexuals, or others as professional Scouters or in other capacities in which such employment would tend to interfere with its mission of reinforcing the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law in young people.
  • Youth Leadership
    Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting's values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. 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.

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