Boy Scouts End Ban On Gay Scout Leaders

A long standing policy against gay Scout Leaders has been repealed.

Boy Scouts

As had been expected for some time, the Boy Scouts of America have rescinded the ban on gay Scout Leaders, although exceptions will remain in place for Scout Troops sponsored by churches and religious organizations:

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.

But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.

Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”

Only two weeks ago, the Mormon Church hinted that it could remain in the fold so long as its units could pick their own leaders.

The top Boy Scouts leaders, including Robert M. Gates, the current president and a former defense secretary who pushed for the new policy, did not immediately respond to the Mormon declaration. In previous statements, Mr. Gates expressed the hope that with the exemption for religious groups, the Boy Scouts might avoid a devastating splintering.

Many scouting leaders said they had not expected the Mormon Church’s sharp response and threat to leave.

“My assumption was that the concept voted on today had been fully vetted so as to avoid any unnecessary surprises,” said Jay Lenrow, a longtime volunteer scout leader in Baltimore who is on the executive committee of the Scouts’ northeast region and serves on the organization’s national religious relationships committee.

“I can only say that I’m hopeful that when the leadership of the L.D.S. Church meets and discusses the issue, that they will find a way to continue to support scouting,” Mr. Lenrow added.

Mormons use the Boy Scouts as their main nonreligious activity for boys, and the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts units they sponsor accounted for 17 percent of all youths in scouting in 2013, the last year for which data have been published.

Under the policy adopted Monday, discrimination based on sexual orientation will also be barred in all Boy Scouts offices and for all paid jobs — a step that could head off looming lawsuits in New York, Colorado and other states that prohibit such discrimination in employment.

One legal threat was immediately averted. In response to the change, the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, announced on Monday that his office was ending its investigation of the Scouts for violating state anti-discrimination laws.

The Boy Scouts’ national executive board, composed of 71 civic, corporate and church leaders, adopted the changes with 79 percent of those who participated in a telephone meeting voting in favor, according to an announcement issued by the Scouts. The announcement did not say how many board members were not present.

The policy change, which was expected, was widely seen as a watershed for an institution that has faced growing turmoil over its stance toward gay people, even as it struggles to halt a long-term decline in members. It was praised by gay-rights organizations as a major if incomplete step toward ending discrimination.


Some conservative evangelical churches ended ties with the Boy Scouts after the 2013 decision to admit openly gay youths. Total national enrollment of youths, which had declined by a few percentage points in many prior years, fell by 6 percent in 2013 and by 7 percent in 2014, to 2.4 million.

More departures by religious conservatives are likely, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mr. Moore expressed skepticism about the Scouts’ promise to let church-sponsored units exclude gay leaders on religious grounds.

“After the Scouts’ shift on membership, they told religious groups this wouldn’t affect leadership,” he said. “Now churches are told that these changes will not affect faith-based groups. Churches know that this is the final word only until the next evolution.”

But scouting executives hope that with Monday’s change they can renew ties with corporate donors, schools and public agencies and attract parents who had steered their children away from scouting because of the policy.

“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth, helping them to grow into good, strong citizens,” said the statement Monday from the Boy Scouts.

It was just over two months that Robert Gates, the former Defense Secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, urged the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America to change the policy that barred gay men from serving as Scout Leaders. As Gates noted at the time, whatever logic there may have been for the ban in the past disappeared in 2013 when the organization lifted its ban on openly gay members. Once that bar was lifted, there was never any justification for the policy applying to Scout Leaders, and the organization was risking being threatened with lawsuits and action by state and local governments if it didn’t repeal a policy that was clearly out of step with public opinion. Additionally, continuing the policy would have meant continuing to deal with boycotts against the organization that seemed to be beginning to spread to larger entities in the past several months. That’s why, in his speech in May, Gates’s argument for ending the ban concentrated more on saving the BSA from years and years of potential litigation and public embarrassment over an issue that isn’t really worth fighting over.

As I said when Gates made his speech, ending the ban is obviously the right thing to do. From the beginning, the policy itself was based more in prejudice and religious superstitions than it was in reality. The obvious implication that supporters of the ban always made, of course, was that keeping gay men out of Scout leadership positions was meant to protect children from abuse. Since there’s never been any evidence to support the contention that people who are gay are more likely to abuse children, this was always an argument based on fear and nonsense, but it was one that played in to public opinion about gays and lesbians that only began to change within the last fifteen years or so. When the BSA itself was rocked with scandals involving actual abuse by leaders who not gay, the argument for the ban lost all credibility.

There will be some complaining, I suppose, over the accommodation that the new policy grants to Scout Troops sponsored by churches and religious organizations. Ideally, these troops would not be discriminating based on sexual orientation to begin with, but that may be too much to ask for. Additionally, since many of these religiously sponsored Scout troops seem to incorporate faith into their programs, it may not be unreasonable for the national organization to allow them to make the policy choice themselves. In time, hopefully, they will follow the rest of the nation, but for now this is a very good step forward.


FILED UNDER: Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Next up: Merit Badges for Boy-on-Dog sex.

  2. Mikey says:

    Additionally, since many of these religiously sponsored Scout troops seem to incorporate faith into their programs, it may not be unreasonable for the national organization to allow them to make the policy choice themselves.

    It was always down to the local councils and troops anyway. They could choose to look the other way, and I’m certain some did. This is a positive development because they won’t have to anymore.

    Chartering organizations are important too, of course, but even some of the religious ones won’t have a problem. My son’s troop is chartered by a Presbyterian church, and the Presbyterians have gay clergy and same-sex marriage. Somehow I think a gay Scout leader or two isn’t going to bother them.

  3. JKB says:

    When the BSA itself was rocked with scandals involving actual abuse by leaders who not gay, the argument for the ban lost all credibility.

    Are you saying the BSA had female leaders abusing boys? Because otherwise, male leaders abusing boys is homosexual.

    Now, you could argue that without some objective test to identify those leaders with same sex attraction, the ban isn’t credible. And in any case, if such a test was possible, one to root out pedophiles regardless of sexual orientation would be more useful.

  4. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey: Just curious… popular is scouting in your neck of the woods? Seems like it’s very unpopular these days, and not just because of this debate.

    Even back when I was a scout, it seemed kind of cheesy and corny and out of date. It’s been a long time now, but I vaguely recall a sense of shame when having to wear my uniform to school. It marked one as deeply uncool.

    Does it still have that same vibe these days?

  5. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: I can’t really give much of an objective view–my son’s been in Scouting since he was 6 so a lot of people we know also have sons (sometimes several) in Scouts. To us it seems quite popular…LOL

    I can say of the 12 boys in my son’s recently-concluded fifth grade class, three were Scouts. And his Scout troop numbers around 120 boys. So it seems to be doing pretty well around here. Also there are some pretty sizable Boy Scout campsites that rotate hundreds of Scouts through week-long camps through the summer.

    Some of it might be a little “corny,” but man, they do some pretty cool stuff too. And of course the attainment of Eagle Scout rank is still highly respected.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From the beginning, the policy itself was based more in prejudice and religious superstitions than it was in reality.

    Ya think? That is the “No sh!t” statement of the year Doug.

  7. Mikey says:

    @JKB: Most male sexual abusers of boys are not sexually attracted to other adult men, but to women. They’re not gay. There’s a whole other psychological process going on with child sexual abuse.

  8. Franklin says:

    @JKB: Surely you’re aware that pedophilia is different than homosexuality?

  9. CB says:

    @James Pearce: @Mikey:

    I can relate to the “uncoolness” of being a scout. As the oldest of three boys, I hated it and quit somewhere around age 15. But seeing my father get involved as a troop leader, and watching my brothers both get their Eagles, well, I wish I had stuck it out. You learn some invaluable skill sets, and that award is like a solid gold stamp on any resume.

    And yeah, at the later levels, and in the post high school years, they definitely do some damn cool stuff.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I was briefly in Scouts. Must have been 12 or so. We had a camp-out and I heard there was a midnight hazing ritual we new scouts were to endure.

    Well. I lacked a pocket knife so for the camp-out my Dad loaned me a Marine bayonet he happened to have. I put the word out that I would stick it in the first person who tried to enter my tent.

    No hazing. And I quit the next day.

  11. Tyrell says:

    @Mikey: The scout units around here left the BSA a couple of years ago and joined a new organization. This seems to be the trend.

  12. mantis says:


    This seems to be the trend.

    You seem to think that anything that happens on your little street in your little town is a national trend. You are nearly always wrong.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    Mormons use the Boy Scouts as their main nonreligious activity for boys

    The NY Times’ link doesn’t support this statement. The link states that every Mormon boy is automatically enrolled in scouting. Scouting is not a nonreligious activity; there are religious medals awarded for religious study and achievement. One is not required to obtain a religious achievement, but one is not required to earn any badge either.

  14. Tony W says:

    In the 1970s I was an avid scout. I made rank, camped in 4′ of snow monthly and hiked 14K foot peaks. I had great experiences and didn’t realize the organization was excluding anybody. One of our leaders was a confirmed bachelor with a sauna in his basement – to which we were regularly invited (as a group). I was unaware of any funny business, he was a great guy – but no doubt he was gay.

    Fast forward to the 1990s and my son had similar experiences. His time in scouting helped him in the military to be successful. All in all good.

    Then the BSA came out with this hardline bigoted stance and aligned with the hate-filled Christian wing. I am pleased they backed away from it as a national org, but I never understood why ‘god’ was necessary to give kids these great map-and-compass experiences.

    TLDR: Religion ruins everything.

  15. James Pearce says:


    Some of it might be a little “corny,” but man, they do some pretty cool stuff too.

    I had a great time hanging out with my Troop. Puberty and junior high made it less fun. Looking back, it was a rather immature take.

    it’s a shame that youth is wasted on the young!


    The scout units around here left the BSA a couple of years ago and joined a new organization.

    What “new organization?”

  16. Mikey says:

    @PD Shaw: Religious emphasis seems to come down to the local organization too. There was a Mormon boy in my son’s Cub Scout den–when the boys were moving up to Boy Scouts, they all chose one or the other Troop to join, except the Mormon boy. He went to a Mormon-only Troop. They are regarded as a bit “different” by the rest. Too much emphasis on making Eagle, not enough on actually developing the focus and maturity and leadership skills Scouting is supposed to foster.

    So far in the six months my son has been in Boy Scouts, religion has been brought up exactly zero times. There’s no mention of it in the meetings, there’s no opening prayer, the Troop is quite emphatic that a boy does not need to be a member of the church that charters the Troop, or of any other church.

    Maybe we’ve just been fortunate, I don’t know. But it just doesn’t seem religion is an aspect of Scouting our particular local organization prioritizes.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Exactly. Pedophiles are attracted to youth / pre-pubescence, and they tend to be equal opportunity abusers who select their victims overwhelmingly based on ease of access, not so much gender.

  18. JKB says:


    That is what I said. There are homosexual pedophiles, heterosexual pedophiles and bisexual pedophiles. The _-sexual trait defines attraction based on sex (formerly gender). Pedophilia on the other hand defines attraction based on sexual maturity.

    Get with the 21st century, heterosexual is no longer the only publicly accepted sex-attraction orientation. As such, denial that homosexuals and bisexuals also run the spectrum of the various _-philia attractions, just as heterosexuals do, is denying their humanity.

    At some point society will have to deal with the anachronistic convention used when homosexuality/bisexuality was publicly denied, i.e., that the gender separation based on presumed sexual attraction.

  19. Tyrell says:

    “Scout Membership Down 6% ” USA Today.
    “Scouts vote may diminish numbers, Baptist leaders say” – read the informative and thoughtful article at
    The powerful Southern Baptist Convention has over 3,000 BSA troops sponsored by their churches and they expect most to leave the BSA and join other similar organizations.
    A leader in the mid Iowa Conference said that sexual orientation is not mentioned on leader applications or materials; it has never been an issue. Why now ? This is what I hear from scout leaders and their members: no one has ever mentioned it or been concerned about it.
    Look at this: it is still up to each individual troop. It does not matter what Robert Gates says; “charting constitutions own each unit, not the BSA.” “The national counsel can not over ride the charting institution and what it desires”. (See Clovis News Journal: “Scout Leader: charter organizations have final say on gay ban”) So the local church that sponsors the troop can call the shots, if they wish. But from my experience and what I hear, the churches usually do not get involved. Of course there will be the inevitable lawsuit from some misguided individual, but suing a church may prove difficult.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    @Mikey: Nobody, particularly religious-haters like Doug or the NY Times, would describe an organization that provides an honor based upon religious qualifications as “nonreligious.” Your son can, if he wishes, achieve a religious award, if he wishes to, whether it be Presbyterian, Quaker, Islam or Zoroastrianism. He cannot achieve a merit for non-belief. That may not be something he is told about or has any interest in, but if he learns about it and contacts a religious leader he can get the merit. If one were to transfer this situation to the public schools, one would not argue that this is a nonreligious activity.

  21. PD Shaw says:

    @Tyrell: The Southern Baptists are relatively small sponsors of Boy Scout Troops, the top three sponsors are:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: 37,933
    United Methodist Church: 10,703
    The Roman Catholic Church: 8,131

    All of the Baptist Churches have 3,532, and there is good reason to think that Southern Baptists though the largest Baptist Church organization do not constitute much more than half of that number. The top three sponsors fall on a different side of the faith versus works debate.

  22. Tyrell says:

    @PD Shaw: Thanks for the information. I am trying to get more information about the charter arrangement. I remember seeing something about that a few years ago in our church’s file cabinets, and a framed copy on a wall. Unusual arrangement.

  23. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:
  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    The other thing that crosses my mind reading the selections from the links is why does it seem that conservative-christian groups assume bad faith on the part of others?

  25. Mikey says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Your son can, if he wishes, achieve a religious award, if he wishes to, whether it be Presbyterian, Quaker, Islam or Zoroastrianism.

    Sure. But they’re not going to put him out if he doesn’t.

    I contrast that to the quasi-scouting organization I belonged to as a boy, the Seventh-day Adventist “Pathfinders.” If one didn’t pursue the religious certifications, one was no longer welcome. It was a primarily religious organization that did scouting.

    I wouldn’t call BSA “non-religious” but it’s not primarily religious either, at least not in our experience.

  26. Franklin says:

    @JKB: My understanding is similar to the other commenters. For pedophiles, the sex they are attracted to for adults (if they are attracted to adults at all) does not have any relationship to the sex of the children they molest.

    If I’m being generous, we are arguing semantics. The term “gay” or “homosexual” is distinctly different than the term “homosexual pedophile”, which is indeed used in some old scientific literature although it is not common. It is not correct to shorten “homosexual pedophile” to “homosexual”, because it entirely changes the meaning, but that appears to be what you tried to do. Your original post and the post you were responding to were talking about homosexuals, not homosexual pedophiles.

  27. James P says:

    Great, what’s next Jerry Sandusky as a scout leader?

    This in an invitation for open season on children.

    I realize all homosexuals are not predators (though many of them are), but just about all predators are homosexuals.

    Jerry Sandusky did not molest any girls – there’s a reason for that.

    It is outrageous that we would sacrifice the safety of little children in the name of political correctness.

    Even if any individual homosexual is not dangerous, why take a chance? It’s irresponsible.

    If your son is not in the troop the fact that you want to spend time with little boys is in and of itself suspicious. When you couple this with the fact that the person is a sexual deviate to begin with, why in God’s name would we take a chance of allowing them around children?

    If someone wants to be a homosexual, that’s on them — -whatever — but they can do so without being around children.

  28. James P says:

    @C. Clavin: Exactly right!

    I realize you are being facetious, but are we really supposed to believe that the homosexuals won’t see this as a recruiting opportunity.

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the homosexuals try to introduce the children to beastiality – or God only knows what else. They’re deviants – that’s what deviants do.

  29. Mikey says:

    @James P: Wow, that’s an impressive amount of fatuous bullshit, even for you.

  30. Grewgills says:

    He’s gotten a bit desperate since MR has been spoofing him. Now he’s spoofing a spoof of his spoof. He is determined to be unspoofable. I don’t know that it is possible to parody something that stupid, so he may have succeeded.

  31. James P says:

    Hey, if it’s open season on Boy Scouts, count me in!

  32. JKB says:

    Would you let your 12-yr old daughter sleep in a tent with an 18-yr old boy?

    If not, now explain the difference if it is your 12-yr old son and the 18-yr old is a normal 18-yr old boy with a sexual attraction to males? As the author of the piece above points out, it is just a matter of time for the facilitated statutory rape cases start emerging.

    And BTW, the risk of pedophilia in the Boy Scouts is slim since they don’t take boys until they are 11-yrs old, i.e., not pre-pubecent.

    In any case, now that homosexuality, i.e., sexual attraction to the same sex, is no longer consciously ignored by society, society is going to have to rework the rules. We separate sexes based on sexual attraction, in bathrooms, showers, communal berthing, etc. But, if homosexuality is not ignored, how does society enforce this segregation without discrimination?