The Inclusive Scouting Network, a group of current and former members of the Boy Scouts of America founded shortly after the Supreme Court’s Boy Scouts v. Dale decision in 2000, stands ready to help parents, Scouts, and Scouters connect with Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops that support inclusivity.
“We are optimistic that the BSA’s National Executive Board will do the right thing on Wednesday and approve the proposed membership policy change,” said Christopher Hayes, one of the co-founders of the organization. “Our Inclusive Scouting Award program uniquely positions us as an ideal resource for connecting parents, Scouts, and Scouters with troops and packs that support diversity within the BSA.”
Last week the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters issued a statement indicating a possible change in their long-standing policy of categorically excluding gay youth and adults from their membership rolls. “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 spokesperson Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”
Introduced in 2002, the Inclusive Scouting Award is a small, multicolored patch designed to mimic other adult leader awards worn on the scout uniform and modeled after the “safe space” sticker programs used in high schools that research has shown to be very effective at improving the environment for LGBT and other at-risk youth. The Inclusive Scouting Award identifies wearers as supporters of inclusive scouting and allies to Scouts and Scouters threatened with exclusion by the BSA’s discriminatory membership policies. Because the emblem has never been approved by the BSA, its motto is “You earn it by wearing it.”
“Thousands of active Scouts and leaders all over the country are wearing the patch, and it hasn’t exactly been easy for many of them to be visible within the BSA.” explained ISN co-founder Mark Noel, who like Hayes is another Eagle Scout who was expelled in 2000 when BSA officials discovered that he was gay. “If the BSA follows through on the proposed policy shift towards a ‘local option,’ one immediate consequence is that parents, Scouts, and leaders will need help finding inclusive Scout units in their area. Additionally, by refusing to develop a national non-discrimination policy, BSA is effectively dumping the responsibility for developing non-discrimination policies and best practices onto individual units for the first time” Noel continues. “Fortunately, there are already thousands of dedicated volunteers everywhere within the scouting program. We just have to help all these supporters find each other so that they can continue their great work delivering and improving the scouting program.”
The two ropes of the square knot on the Inclusive Scouting Award patch symbolize religion and sexual orientation. One rope is silver and purple – colors the BSA reserves for religious emblems. The other rope is rainbow-colored – a pattern that is representative of diversity and is used widely in LGBT communities as a symbol of pride and unity. According to reported BSA statements, the proposed change to membership policies would apply only to sexual orientation and would not change BSA’s longstanding national policy of barring all atheist, agnostic, and non-theist youth and adults from the program.
“If, and, I hope, when, the proposed policy is handed down, we’ll begin to see change in local Scouting units and councils the likes of which we’ve never seen,” added ISN co-founder Matt Comer, who was dismissed from scouting at the age of 14 after helping to start a gay-straight alliance at his high school. “We have distributed over 7,000 patches, pins, and stickers over the past 6 months alone and new orders are coming in at a record pace. Due to demand, we have also been working with other groups like GLAAD and Scouts for Equality to introduce new patch designs and materials that people can use to show their support.”
“Even though the proposed policy would still explicitly allow discrimination, we applaud the BSA for taking this significant step forward,” said Hayes. “And we’ll be here to support parents, Scouts, and leaders until the BSA finally makes scouting available to all.”