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BSA and Homosexuality

"[People of English descent] do not consider it wise to permit anything which savours of the mix-ing of European and non-Europeans socially: moreover, they consider it wrong to allow white children to mix on terms of equality with non-European children, because they consider, that if white children learn anything at all from the non-Europeans it will be undesirable habits, manners and customs."  Percival Whiteley, Acting Divisional Commissioner for the Transval, September 1935.

"The mentality of these people is so very different from the European, and they are so very far behind in development, and it is really hard that we in these days bring Western civilisation of several hundred years back direct into what we have now here to-day!" Lady Olave Baden-Powell, November 1930.

"White leaders feared the undesirable influence of non-European children. They not only assumed that Africans lacked morality, but especially that they lacked self-control and purity." Tammy M. Proctor, Ph.D., Wittinberg University, in Scouting and Guiding in Interwar South Africa, 2000

"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." Boy Scouts of America, Position Statement on Homosexuality, June 1991

"To suggest that the BSA had no policy against active homosexuality is nonsense. It was an organization which from its inception had a God-acknowledged, moral foundation. It required its members, youth and adult, to take the Scout Oath that they would be "morally straight." It is unthinkable that in a society where there was universal governmental condemnation of the act of sodomy as a crime, that the BSA could or would tolerate active homosexuality if discovered in any of its members. . . .Men who do those criminal and immoral acts cannot be held out as role models."  Superior Court Judge Patrick J. McGann, in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, No. Mon-C-330-92  

"[BSA's] witnesses all rely upon their own personal interpretation of the words "morally straight" and "clean" which they believe proscribe homosexuality. These views were epitomized by the testimony of William McClaughlin, the Director of Personnel Administration for the National Council of Boy Scouts of America. . . .McCloughlin testified that the reference in the Scout Oath and Law to sexual orientation was in the words "morally straight" and "clean."  He stated that . . . in his application of the BSA guidelines on a national level, all behavior related to homosexual orientation is "immoral or indecent." He testified that he did not think that a gay man is able to devote himself to others, simply because he is gay." Excerpt from final ruling from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, G. Keith Richardson v. Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

     The above quotations demonstrate the startlingly similarities of Scouting's views on native Africans in 1930's South Africa with BSA's views on homosexuals in 21st Century America. The interchangeability of race with sexual orientation in the above comments is a chilling commentary on BSA's discrimination policies.
     While the Scouting movement's principles are noble and worthwhile, Scouting, as a human institution, has been guilty of corrupting those principles in the past on issues of race, political ideology, sex, socio-economics, and religion. Most of those failings have been corrected by Scouting, but today, Scouting has once again corrupted its bedrock principles of equality and openness on the issue of sexual orientation.

     Of the 3-G's, the issue of openly gay youth and adults being allowed to become and/or remain members in the Boy Scouts of America has been in the forefront of the country's attention. While each of the 3-G's have been litigated in courts across the country (and some are still being litigated), only the gay issue reached the United States Supreme Court.
     How did the gay issue wind up before the US Supreme Court? In 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Boy Scouts of America was a public accommodation and therefore subject to New Jersey civil rights laws. This meant that  the BSA Councils in the State of New Jersey had to comply with state civil rights laws which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. While a unanimous opinion of a state's Supreme Court decision -- on a state law -- is rarely reviewed by the US Supreme Court, in 1998 the California Supreme Court had ruled that BSA was not a business establishment and therefore not subject to California's civil rights law - the Unruh Civil Rights Act - which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Thus, with two seemingly conflicting rulings, the US Supreme Court agreed to settle the legal question.

     Because of the amount of information on this subject, we've tried to organize it for your benefit as follows:

  • A Review of BSA's Position on Homosexuality - This is our attempt to synthesize the issue. We've provided personal accounts of youth expelled from Scouting because they were found to be gay. We also take a look at the argument that the morally straight clause in the Scout Oath was originally meant to refer to sexual orientation. And finally, we offer some suggestions to settle the issue that meets the needs of all parties.
  • BSA Official Position on Homosexuality - This is the internal memorandum distributed on June 24, 1991 to BSA professionals (Regional Directors, Area Directors, Scout Executives, and Division Directors). It should be noted that this was released after the May 21, 1991 decision by the trial court in the Curran Case. The court noted that "Not a great deal is explicitly spelled out in the Scout literature directed at Boy Scout members regarding sexuality in general or homosexuality in particular." As noted in Dale, only a handful of internal documents, dating from 1978 to the early 1990s, refer to the exclusion of gay youth and adult members and staff. None were ever circulated among youth or adult members, or even made available upon request. Excerpts of the earliest mention of homosexuality, the 1978 Memoranda, are only available on this web site.
  • James Dale Case - Due to the BSA's 5-4 victory from the US Supreme Court, James is the most famous gay Eagle Scout in the country. Remember, once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout!
  • Tim Curran Case - In 1980, Eagle Scout Tim Curran made the courageous decision to take his boyfriend to his school prom. This decision lead to an almost 20 year legal battle with BSA, after it kicked him out for living up to the Scout Oath and Law.
  • Chuck Merino Case - Police Officer Merino was the fist gay man to win against the BSA at the trial court level in 1994. But when the California Supreme Court ruled against Curran, Chuck's case was over.
  • Pool & Geller Case - These two men's complaint against BSA before the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights is still ongoing. In fact, the Commission ruled on June 22, 2001 that the BSA violated the district's anti-discrimination law by expelling the two Eagle Scouts in 1992 for being gay. On November 7, 2002, the DC Court of Appeals reversed the Commission's ruling. A decision on whether to seek a reversal, has not been made by the Commission.
  • Keith Richardson Case - Keith Richardson was recruited by the ACLU-IL to be a tester. As a tester, he contacted the Chicago Area Council to inquire about employment. In his discussions with the Council, he informed them that he was a gay man. When informed that the Council would not consider him for employment, he filed a complaint with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. The Commission ruled against the BSA. This case is currently on appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.
  • Winkler & Poloncarz Case -  In Chicago, Winkler & Poloncarz filed suit in federal court challenging the City of Chicago's operation of scout troops affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The suit alleged that the City's policy excludes participants from City-operated scouting programs based on religious belief and sexual orientation. The City eventually entered into a binding agreement in which it formally ended all support for scouting programs as long as the Boy Scouts of America continue to discriminate on the basis of religious belief and sexual orientation. The case is still ongoing, against the federal defendants.

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