Politics

Boy Scouts Ends Ban On Gay Leaders

The executive board voted Monday to end the blanket ban on gay people serving as Scout leaders. Individually chartered troops, however, can decide to keep the ban.

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WASHINGTON — The Boy Scouts of America ended its blanket ban on gay leaders on Monday, following an executive board vote that capped off several months of quick movement on the issue.

"On Monday, July 27, the national executive board ratified a resolution removing the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees," Boy Scouts President Robert Gates said in a video announcing the news. Under the new policy, however, individually chartered troops — many of which are backed by churches — will be allowed to continue the ban.

According to a statement from the Boy Scouts, 79 percent of the board members "present and voting" voted in favor of the resolution.

While change happened rapidly this spring and summer, Monday's vote — in which individually chartered troops maintain the right to continue banning gay leaders — comes more than 15 years after the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Boy Scouts to ban gay leaders.

Evan Wolfson, the lawyer for out gay assistant scoutmaster James Dale in that 2000 Supreme Court case, told BuzzFeed News on Monday that the move was "a big step forward" — but that more was needed.

"I hope that Boy Scouts will finish the job as soon as possible in order to be attractive to parents and young people who only want to participate in an organization that lives up to its own values of respecting all people," he said.

Monday's vote of the executive board followed a unanimous executive committee vote earlier in July recommending the end to the ban.

In addition to ending the nationwide ban and allowing individually chartered troops to keep the ban, the recommended policy approved on Monday night also noted that the national Boy Scouts organization would back any legal challenges faced by religious organizations that kept the ban.

In response to the changes, the Mormon church said it will reevaluate its relationship with the Boy Scouts.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today's vote," the church said in a statement issued after the new policy was announced. "The admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

The committee vote itself followed a speech in May by Gates, who previously was the defense secretary under President Obama, that the blanket ban "cannot be sustained." A month earlier, the Greater New York Councils had hired an out gay man, Pascal Tessier, to serve as a leader at its scout camps this summer — a fact noted by Gates in his speech.

Tessier has been a part of the changing face of the Boy Scouts, having been one of the first known out gay teens to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout — the organization's highest rank — after the Boy Scouts ended its ban on gay youth members in 2013.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, another Scout leader, Brian Peffly, was kicked out of the Boy Scouts this spring because he is gay.

"While this isn't a complete victory, it's an enormous step forward," Peffly said, speaking with BuzzFeed News on Monday evening. "Not to sound too cheesy, but now we can work on living happily ever after."

He described the policy change as a chance for change within the Boy Scouts — and for himself personally.

"We so much closer to getting back to being about what scouting is all about, going on camping trips and teaching how to build fires and tie knots and lash poles together and build stuff," he said, "and learning to be a good leader and good friend and good citizen in the midst of all that."

Peffly also said that, while he is moving with his boyfriend to Phoenix at the end of the summer, he's already talked with the troop in Ohio where he had served as an assistant scoutmaster and, "They made sure I knew that they really want me to be a part of the troop and they gave me a form to fill out to re-apply as an adult leader — and I think I will fill it out."

One of the groups Tessier and Peffly have worked with is Scouts for Equality, a group aimed at ending the ban. Zach Wahls, the executive director of the group, called the vote "the beginning of a new chapter" for the Boy Scouts.

"Tens of thousands of people came together because they wanted to build a better future for the Boy Scouts of America, and that future starts now. I couldn't be more proud of the tireless work of our members, volunteers, and staff over these last three years," Wahls said. "As of this vote, the Boy Scouts of America is an organization that is looking forward, not back."

Watch Boy Scouts President Robert Gates talk about the policy change:

View this video on YouTube

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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