BSA: Gay, OK?!

The Boy Scouts of America has announced that as early as February 6 it may rescind its policy against allowing gay and lesbian adults to serve as troop leaders. The policy change would not, according to BSA, prevent local church-backed troops from maintaining their own policies on LGBT leadership. 

It’s estimated that 34% of the nation’s Scout troops are affiliated with congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church has not responded to the BSA announcement. But some Southern Baptist leaders registered moral outrage.

Pressure from without and within is hastening conversation on LGBT issues within the Scout organization.  n just one example of many grassroots efforts to push back against homophobia within the BSA organization, one California BSA Council is challenging the national organization’s policy against awarding the Eagle Scout award to an openly gay 18-year-old.

Major donors including UPS and Merck have reportedly discontinued donations in view of the BSA discrimination policy, and it’s reported that internal lobbying by corporate CEOs on the organization’s national board is also playing a role.

The anticipated BSA move highlights the role corporate muscle is playing in some sectors of the LGBT equality movement. Even the Marriott hotel chain is now joining a Human Rights Campaign-backed effort to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, with Board chairman Bill Marriott (who is Mormon) easily differentiating religious belief and workplace and public policy: 

“We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else. We have all the American values: the values of hard work, the values of integrity, the values of fairness and respect. Our church is very much opposed to alcohol and we’re probably one of the biggest sales engines of liquor in the United States. I don’t drink. We serve a lot of liquor.”

It remains to be seen how a new BSA policy would be implemented in LDS contexts. Membership records of LGBT Church members are sometimes marked to indicate their sexuality, and among some congregational leaders it is customary not to appoint LGBT Mormons to youth-related congregational responsibilities.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.