The Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay leaders on Monday, relaxing its policy in order to allow gay adults to serve as den leaders, scoutmasters, and camp counselors. But the new policy comes with a caveat, one that will permit church-sponsored units to pick their own leaders and continue excluding gays for religious reasons.
We canvassed the campus community after the massive youth organization had announced the policy shift, asking students and faculty with a particular interest in gay rights to react to the decision. All three respondents said the same thing: The new policy does not go far enough and represents only “incremental progress” in the ongoing cultural shift toward gay equality.
“These ‘religious exemptions’ are worrisome,” said Suzanna Walters, professor of sociology and director of Northeastern’s Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. “Religious ‘freedom’ to discriminate is still discrimination, even if cloaked in the robe of biblical ideology.”
She added: “Claiming ‘morality’ or ‘religious beliefs’ cannot override basic principles of equality.”
Libby Adler, a law professor with expertise in sexuality and gender identity, said that the group is getting too much credit for the new policy. She likened the decision to the states’ rights position, which refers to the political powers reserved for U.S. state governments.
“The new policy is not a ban against discrimination,” Adler said, “it’s permission for the local organizations to make their own decisions without authoritative rule coming from the top. It’s almost as if they said there is no rule.”
Joseph Lagalla, the director of communications for NU Pride, initially praised the decision and then called on the BSA to expand its membership policy to include provisions for boys of all gender identities.
“My first reaction to the news announcing the vote to lift the ban on gay scout leaders was excitement mixed with pride,” said Lagalla, E’17. “However,” he added, “I do not see this as the end of the LGBT movement in the organization. As a member of our school’s pride group, I would like to see the board address the full gender and sexuality spectrum. It would be fantastic to see the Scouts move toward inclusion of trans boys and other appropriate gender identities.”