Exciting news broke yesterday, as the Boy Scouts of America announced that they would be “actively considering” ending a discriminatory policy that bans gay scouts and leaders. The story has centered, rightly, on those most directly impacted by the policy, people like Jen Tyrrell, who was kicked out as a scout leader for being gay, or Ryan Andresen, who was denied his Eagle Scout badge for being gay.
Over a million people have called on the Boy Scouts to change their policy, through various actions like those at glaad.org/scouts.
The move may end the national ban on gay scouts and leaders, allowing individual sponsoring organizations who value equality to enact a local policy that matches their values. According to a statement released by the Boy Scouts of America:
There would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
However, media coverage of the policy change has fallen into a familiar trap. Two of the most common voices appearing in opposition to the policy change have reinforced the false notion that religious people are opposed to removing the ban on gay scouts. Tony Perkins is one of the most common and egregious anti-gay voices. GLAAD has included him in our Commentator Accountability Project for the outlandish statements he has made against LGBT people. Another voice that has been appearing frequently is Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler has also made extreme anti-gay statements, and has also earned a spot on the Commentator Accountability Project. Mohler represents a large, mainstream Christian denomination in the United States. His words carry special weight, and can easily imply that Baptists all agree with him. He uses specific, religious language to help shape his message.
When these are the only religious voices that appear in the media conversation, one would be led to the conclusion that there is no religious support for changing the ban on gay scouts, but nothing could be further from the truth. Hundreds of religious groups have been advocating for a Boy Scout policy change, some for years.
Unfortunately, pro-LGBT religious voices are not making it into the mainstream discussion. Instead, religious language is being offered exclusively to those who would oppose LGBT equality. Last spring, GLAAD issued “Missing Voices”, which demonstrated the lack of visibility for pro-LGBT religious people and organizations. The report found that 3 out of 4 religious voices speaking on LGBT equality came from denominations that have formal policy or culture opposed to LGBT people.
This story has fallen into that same pattern. It’s time for the media to seek out sponsoring congregations, religious leaders, and entire denominations that have been encouraging the exact change that is being considered by the Boy Scouts. The evidence is there:
In 2000, The Episcopal Church passed a resolution to “encourage the Boy Scouts of America to allow membership to youth and adult leaders irrespective of their sexual orientation” as well as encourage congregations who sponsor Boy Scout troops to dialog with the troop about discrimination.
Likewise, the United Church of Christ (UCC) has also passed a resolution in 2003, encouraging the Boy Scouts to drop its discriminatory policy. Today, the UCC released a statement in which it applauded this move as a step, but still calls for a nation-wide end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
While every scouting program should be inclusive and welcoming to all, it is important to note that the policy change under consideration will give local scouting organizations the freedom to choose, creating a patchwork of welcoming and not-welcoming scout organizations. Nevertheless, the policy change under consideration is an important step to full inclusion. Welcoming gay and bisexual scouts and scout leaders is way overdue and the BSA National Council should waste no time to change their policy and open the door to non-discrimination.
The UCC has also urged its members to contact the Boy Scouts of America to voice their support for a non-discrimination policy. Details about the action can be found here.
The UCC statement also mentions the LGBT inclusive scouting program “Scouting for All,” which has also been long supported by the LGBT-inclusive Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). MCC founder, Rev. Troy Perry, wrote a letter of support for Scouts for All in 2002.
GLAAD calls on the media to include the multitude of faith voices that have been advocating for dropping the ban on gay scouts. Leaders within the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Metropolitan Community Church, and others listed here are ready and willing to speak out. By doing so, the media can more fairly and accurately represent the fact that only the fringe of faith people are holding onto an antiquated anti-gay policy that keeps qualified leaders from the scouts, and punishes scouts for being gay.
Local media outlets have perhaps done a better job, talking to local clergy about what the policy change would mean for the troops they sponsor. Many LGBT-inclusive congregations sponsor Boy Scout troops, and this policy change has allowed these congregations to reaffirm their belief in the support of scouting for all. It also ends the conflict that many congregations feel when they adopt a welcoming policy toward LGBT people, yet support the discriminatory policy of the Boy Scouts. By seeing who is sponsoring scout troops, the media can tell a fuller, more inclusive story.