Discriminatory Policy Raises Questions About Special Treatment for Boy Scouts

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Government, funders, members increase pressure on the organization
July 19, 2000

(NEW YORK, July 19, 2000) — Barely one month after the Boy Scouts of America established its right to discriminate against gay members, long-time Scouts supporters are questioning their continued involvement with the organization, and the special government treatment long accorded the youth group increasingly is coming under close scrutiny.

And with every passing day, according to Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, whose client James Dale narrowly lost his case before the United States Supreme Court on June 28, pressure is mounting on BSA to reverse its anti-gay membership policy. The latest effort came on Wednesday, when U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced legislation calling for BSA’s federal charter to be revoked. Only a handful of organizations enjoy this special government imprimatur.

Lambda Senior Staff Attorney Evan Wolfson said, “As long as the Boy Scouts’ leaders are insisting on an exclusionary membership policy, the rest of us, especially public schools, parents, and donors, are going to dissociate ourselves from discrimination against our kids.”

Based on BSA’s now-violated pledge to be ‘open to all boys,’ many government agencies, including police departments, military units and public schools, sponsor – literally own and operate – Scout troops, making public entities responsible for upholding the discriminatory policy. By its policy, BSA stands to forfeit the litany of governmental privileges it has historically enjoyed, including favorable tax treatment, access to facilities and services, and a close association with Congress, the President, the military, and other government agencies.

Wolfson notes that other youth organizations that receive similar public sponsorship, such as the Girls Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the National 4-H Club specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. “At a time when our communities are grappling with violence and prejudice, all kids need to learn to value differences and respect each other. That is all the more reason why Scouting programs should be open to all boys regardless of sexual orientation,” he said. “Government simply cannot be an accomplice to discrimination.”

“The Boy Scouts may have won the right to discriminate in court, but the court of public opinion is showing itself to be far less tolerant of discrimination. It seems only right that those who care about Scouting and believe in its principles would exercise their leverage to end this discrimination,” said Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last month, financial support for the BSA has been questioned by public and private contributors alike. United Way agencies are withholding contributions, and the state of Connecticut recently removed Scouts from a list of charities state workers can support through payroll deductions. Reform Judaism and the Methodist and Episcopal Churches recently called for an end to the anti-gay ban, while current and former Scouts are returning their honors and badges in protest.

Lambda is the nation’s largest legal organization for lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda has offices in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Evan Wolfson 212-809-8585 x 205


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