The Boy Scouts of America faces intensifying criticism from the left and right over a proposal to move away from a mandatory no-gays membership policy and allow troop sponsors to decide the matter for themselves.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, initially welcomed the Scouts’ possible shift, but said Thursday that it was inadequate and demanded that the Scouts adopt a nationwide policy to accept gays as scouts and adult leaders.
The HRC also said corporations that continued to donate funds to the Scouts if any troops were allowed to discriminate would lose points in an annual evaluation of how major employers deal with gay-related workplace issues.
The Boy Scouts, who emphatically reaffirmed the no-gays policy just seven months ago, announced on Monday that they were considering a major change. Instead of mandatory exclusion of gays, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue – either maintaining the exclusion or opening up their membership.
Since then, conservative groups which support the long-standing no-gays policy asked their followers to flood BSA headquarters with phone calls opposing any change.
“The BSA national leadership were not prepared for the thousands of Americans who were shocked to hear that an organization that could always be counted on for standing for what’s right was about to cave in to homosexual activists and corporations,” Perkins said in an emailed appeal.
“It is so important that you keep the pressure on, to show them how devastating this moral collapse will be for the Scouts and the country,” he said.
Perkins also said that lifting the ban on gays would lead to increased incidents of child abuse, and that gays could lead young boys into a homosexual “lifestyle.”
Similar histrionics were on display by other conservative groups across the country.
Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, warned that allowing openly gay scouts would create dangerous “sexual tension” on camping trips, and would allow Jerry Sandusky-like pedophiles to become troop leaders.
Deron Smith, the Scouts’ national spokesman, declined to comment on the Human Rights Campaign’s announcement, and denied reports that the Scouts were taking a poll to gauge public sentiment on the controversy.
“When we receive calls we allow people to provide feedback, but if the board decides to address this topic, it will be about what is in the best interest of Scouting,” Smith said. “Regardless of what people think about this issue, America needs Scouting.”
Fred Sainz, a vice president of the HRC, said Scout board members now needed to decide “what kind of America they want to be a part of” – one that frowns on all discrimination or tolerates a degree of it.
“The board has to make a decision one way or another,” he said. “The policy proposal they’re considering makes the problem worse, not better.”
HRC president, Chad Griffin, likened the proposed policy change “to a national restaurant chain saying that it will not discriminate at its corporate headquarters, but allow local restaurants to discriminate at will.”
Griffin added that the HRC is revising criteria for its annual Corporate Equality Index. To receive a perfect score, companies would have to prohibit philanthropic giving to civic organizations that have a written policy of anti-gay discrimination, or permit its chapters, affiliates, or troops to do so.
The proposed change to the Boy Scouts’ policy is expected to be discussed, and possibly voted on, at a meeting of the Scouts’ national executive board next week in Texas.