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[January 28, 2013]
Boy Scouts of America close to ending ban on openly gay members
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Boy Scouts of America is close to ending its ban on openly gay members and Scout leaders, the organisation announced Monday.
The move would be a major shift for the movement and comes amid intense criticism over its existing policy. The Scouts have faced criticism from president Barack Obama over its decades-long gay ban. Meanwhile sponsors, including pharmaceuticals giant Merck, have pulled funding citing its discrimination.
According to NBC, which broke the news, an announcement could come as soon as next week. The new policy would leave local organizations free to decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts.
In a statement Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), confirmed the organisation is "discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation".
"This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families," said Smith.
"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs," he said.
The move is a dramatic reversal of the BSA's position. In July, BSA upheld its ban on openly gay members after a two year consultation period. The decision sparked a backlash from both Obama and then-Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Pressure group Scouts for Equality, led by former Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, subsequently targeted BSA sponsors including Verizon to pull their funding. A petition on activist website Change.org calling on the telecoms firm to end its support attracted 72,245 signatures. Verizon gave BSA $315,000 in 2010 and has a strong anti-discriminatory corporate policy.
Wahls said that pressure from local organisations had been mounting on the BSA since its reaffirmation of the ban. "The reaction at the local level was very negative. There has been a big grassroots push for change," he said.
Wahls welcomed the move but said that it would still allow for discrimination. "It's a step in the right direction but there's more to do," he said.
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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