Disney is the latest corporation to announce an end to financial support for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) because of the Boy Scouts’ ban on openly gay adult Scout leaders. Joining former BSA sponsors—including Lockheed Martin, Major League Soccer, UPS, and others that have ended relationships with the BSA—Walt Disney World announced that it will no longer support the organization. The BSA’s official position bans openly gay Scout leaders, even though on May 23, 2013, following years of public pressure, the organization’s national governing body voted to lift its long-standing ban on openly gay youth in the program.
Now, the pressures are mounting to remove the ban on openly gay leaders. Last month, Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood became the latest battleground in the gay-rights culture wars when the Boy Scouts of America revoked the charter of Seattle’s newest Scout troop for refusing to remove its openly gay Scoutmaster. Seattle’s Troop 98, which has only been chartered by the BSA for a few months, is led by Geoff McGrath, an Eagle Scout who is married to his longtime male partner.
Last month, the BSA advised Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, the sponsor of Seattle Troop 98, to dismiss Mr. McGrath as Scoutmaster because he discussed his sexual orientation in a news story with NBC News.When the church refused, the BSA officially revoked the Church’s charter agreement.
BSA spokesman Deron Smith suggested that McGrath’s sexual orientation would not have become an issue until McGrath made it public. In an e-mail published by NBC News, Smith wrote: “Our policy is that we do not ask people about their sexual orientation, and it is not an issue until they deliberately inject it into Scouting in an inappropriate fashion.” Sharon Moulds, the leader of the BSA Seattle Council, told NBC News that the Council did not inquire about McGrath’s sexual orientation—as directed by BSA policy—when he applied for a leadership position. She said she found out McGrath was gay only after NBC News contacted her: “It was then that we became aware of his intentions to make a public statement about his orientation and use our program as a means to further a personal agenda.”
While McGrath denies that his decision to help create the Seattle troop was an attempt to gain media attention for what he sees as a discriminatory BSA policy to ban openly gay troop leaders, he acknowledged to NBC News that “If you don’t participate, you’re not part of the conversation. Yelling from the outside is not conversing. So we’re on the inside doing good work.” The Rainier Beach minister, Monica Corsaro, told a reporter for NBC News that she invited McGrath to lead the fledgling troop at her church.
Assessing a Policy Change Impact
Removing the current BSA policy barring “avowed homosexuals” as volunteers is more complex than McGrath and Corsaro will acknowledge because it involves a volatile mix of parental concerns, religious concerns, financial concerns, and a not insignificant concern about liability. In the spring of 2013, the BSA’s Voice of the Scout Membership Standards Survey was sent to more than one million adult members with over 200,000 respondents. The survey found that parents opposed the policy barring openly homosexual scouts by a 45 percent to 42 percent margin.
But, when local councils were queried over whether to accept openly gay men to serve as leaders, many groups expressed concerns. While the Northeast Region on behalf of its 65 councils recommended changing the policy by excluding any mention of sexual preference as one of the criteria for membership for youth and adults, all of the other regions, including the Central, Southern, and Western Regions, recommended that “no change” be made to the current policy excluding openly gay leaders. Resistance to allowing gay Scout leaders was most evident within chartered organizations—many of which are chartered by the Catholic Church.
The Scouts Chartered Organization Study Group survey indicated that many religious chartered organizations believe a membership policy change involving both youth and adults could cause the BSA to lose anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000 members, offset by youth membership gains of only 10,000 to 20,000. Still, the BSA suggested that a change in the membership policy surrounding openly gay youth is consistent with the religious beliefs of the BSA’s major chartered organizations.
Evaluating the financial impact of projected changes in the BSA’s membership policy revealed that councils anticipate 51 percent of major donors do not support a policy change allowing openly gay men to serve as leader. A majority of Fortune 500 companies, however, support a change in the current leadership policy, as do a majority of current and former corporations that currently have or had sponsorship-type relationships with the BSA.
Safety and Liability for the BSA
To assess the safety and liability factors surrounding a policy change for Scoutmasters, the BSA consulted with four leading psychological or psychiatric practitioners in the field of youth protection and child sexual-abuse prevention. These experts concluded that the research surrounding children’s association with self-identified homosexual adults indicates that “there appear to be no effects on children’s adjustment, mental health, or sexual orientation.”
One of the four professionals consulted was Charol Shakeshaft, also relied upon during the 2002 sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The four clinical experts concluded that the near-universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that “same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth is NOT [emphasis in original report] a risk factor for sexually abusing children.”
If gay men are no more likely to sexually abuse prepubescent children than heterosexual men, it is clear that the overwhelming number of the nearly 5,000 documented cases of sexual abuse within the BSA from 1947-2005 involved same-sex behavior with teenage boys. The Los Angeles Times has published a database containing information on nearly 5,000 men and a handful of women who were expelled from the Boy Scouts of America because of allegations of sexual abuse. The data were derived from confidential Scouting files—something the Scouts called the “perversion files”—submitted as evidence in a major court case involving abuse by a gay male Scout leader in 2010.
These documents provide valuable information into the tactics that male Scout leaders used to ensnare the teenage boys in the troops, as well as revealing ways in which Scouting executives attempted to cover up abuse by simply removing leaders after credible allegations. The records of banned Scout leaders document horrific acts by serial abusers that in some cases went on for years. For example, Clyde Brock, an Oregon City troop leader, took nude photographs of male troop members and showed the photos to other Scouts who visited his home; the BSA did not remove him until two Scouts came forward to say he had forced them to engage in sexual relations with them.
Using a color-coded map of the United States, replete with dots indicating the location of troops connected in some way to the accused, the Los Angeles Times provides information on the volume of cases opened by year. It also provides names and troop locations for each individual accused of sexual abuse. Visitors to the Times site can click on each of the thousands of names of men who were accused of sexual abuse to read the interoffice Scouting memos, arrest records, and newspaper clippings surrounding the alleged sexual abuse that caused the leaders to be banned from Scouting.
The BSA has paid millions of dollars in damages to sexual abuse victims of male abusers. While the overwhelming majority of cases involved teenage boys, many disturbing cases of sexual abuse on prepubescent children are on record. In the largest single settlement, BSA victim Kerry Lewis was awarded nearly $20 million in damages from the BSA in a trial that ended in April 2010. Lewis was just one of several others who were sexually abused by Timur Dykes, a man who had admitted to a BSA official in 1983 that he had already molested 17 boys. During the settlement trial, Lewis’s attorneys used the secret perversion files to argue that the organization had dismissed or ignored many allegations of sexual abuse by male Scout leaders.
It is difficult to predict whether the BSA will eventually be pressured to remove the ban on openly gay leaders. The National Executive Board and the National Advisory Council are split on support for the current policy. According to an online survey by the BSA, “a majority of the Board does not consider the current policy to be core to Scouting’s values, while a majority of the Advisory Council does.” The BSA survey itself concludes that “the research finds a significant shift in attitudes regarding the BSA policy on homosexuality: Three years ago, parents supported the [then-]current BSA policy on openly gay Scouts by a wide margin, today, parents opposed excluding openly gay Scouts by a 45 percent to 42 margin.” It is likely that shifts in support for openly gay leaders will continue—and policies will change to reflect these shifts.