How the Boy Scouts Work

Discrimination in the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America has long refused admittance to what its lawyer once referred to as the 3-Gs -- the godless, girls and gays [source: Cloud and Rivera]. While its policy of excluding homosexual boys and leaders has been in place since the incorporation of the scouting program, it wasn't widely known until a series of court cases thrust the issue into the national news.

In 2000, a discrimination case brought by James Dale, a former Eagle Scout and Boy Scout assistant troop leader who was fired from the position because he was a homosexual, made its way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overturned a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, stating that the Boy Scouts can bar homosexuals from being troop leaders. It argued that to force the organization to accept gays would violate its constitutional right of freedom of association and free speech [source: CNN].

But that ruling didn't end challenges against the Boy Scout's policy. Most recently, in 2007, the city of Philadelphia threatened to start charging the organization rent for its space in the municipal building, which it had inhabited rent-free since the 1920s, unless the organization would change its discriminatory policy toward gay people [source: Fox News]. The Boy Scouts has refused to alter its policy.

As for the girls and the godless -- both have challenged the Boy Scout's policies at one time or another. In the 1980s, Catherine Pollard lost a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts when she challenged the organization to permit women to be scout leaders. But after the Connecticut Supreme Court sided up with the Boy Scouts on the matter, the organization wound up altering its policy to allow women to lead troops [source: New York Times]. And on Oct. 11, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would allow girls into the Cub Scouts in 2018, and allow older girls into a new, unspecified program that would allow them to earn Boy Scout ranks up to Eagle Scout starting in 2019, according to news reports.

The Boy Scouts has also removed a Scoutmaster who was Muslim (not exactly godless), when the troop was chartered by a Presbyterian church. Its reasoning for such a removal is that the chartering agency, whether church, school or other organization, ultimately has the authority to approve or deny the leadership role [source: Associated Press].

Has the bad press hurt Boy Scout popularity? Who's to say? But, in the last ten years, boy scout participation has dropped. At the end of the 2007 reporting year, there were 484,000 less Cub Scouts than there were in 1997.

So, what option is there for the boy who questions his sexuality? The Girl Scouts, while nondiscriminatory in regard to sexuality, doesn't allow boys in its troops. But the Campfire Boys and Girls Club, originally opened only to girls, began allowing boys into its groups in 1974. Its statement is firm and clear: It does not discriminate based on race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or any other area of diversity.

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  • Bierbauer, Charles. "Supreme Court Says Boy Scouts Can Bar Gay Troop Leaders." New York Times. June 28, 2000. (Sept. 19, 2008)
  • Cloud, John and Elaine Rivera. "All for a Scout's Honor." Time. August 16, 1999. (Sept. 10, 2008),9171,991775-1,00.html
  • Chu, Jeff. "Duty, Honor and Allah." Time. August 23, 2005. (Sept. 10, 2008),9171,1096510,00.html
  • Donaldson-Evans, Catherine. "Boy Scouts' Rent Skyrockets in Philadelphia to $200K Over Gay Ban." Fox News. Oct. 19, 2007. (Sept. 19, 2008),2933,303420,00.html
  • Laidler, John. "Scouting a Cultural Bridge." Boston Globe. June 12, 2005. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • Madden, Richard L. "A Woman Wins Her 14-year Fight to Be a Scoutmaster." Feb. 17, 1988. (Sept. 19, 2008)
  • Polling Report. (Sept. 11, 2008)
  • Ritsch, Massie. "Group Comes to Defense of Boy Scouts." Los Angeles Times. Dec. 4, 2002. (Sept. 10, 2008)
  • "Sexual Abuse in the Boy Scouts Video." (Sept. 19, 2008)
  • Urbina, Ian. "Boy Scouts Lose Philadelphia Lease in Gay Rights Fight." New York Times. Dec. 6, 2007. (Sept. 10, 2008)