Former Eagle Scout James Dale says that back in 1990 he was just doing what nearly a lifetime in Boy Scouts had taught him — taking on a leadership role.
That role was at the Gay Alliance organization while he attended Rutgers University.
“There was a footnote on that, ‘unless you’re gay.’ I didn’t read that or know that existed from my time in the Boy Scouts, so that was unfortunate,” said Dale, now 44.
The BSA stripped the assistant scoutmaster of all his badges and expelled him from the organization. Dale filed a discrimination lawsuit that made it all the way the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against him.
However, the policy against openly gay adult Scout members and leaders might soon be revised. During the Boy Scouts annual national meeting Thursday, president Robert Gates said the organization’s ban was no longer sustainable. Instead, he called for a new policy that would allow local councils to decide for themselves whether to allow openly gay leadership.
“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” Gates said during his speech.
When Dale first heard the news Thursday, he said he was happy — until he realized a change in policy would still allow local organizations to discriminate if they wanted.
“It’s another half solution,” said Dale. “The Boy Scouts are very good at not doing the right thing, or taking these incremental baby steps that seem to do more damage than good.”
After a bitter internal debate, the Boy Scouts of America finally permitted openly gay youth to participate in 2013.
“I think a 13-year-old can look ahead and see this organization and say, ‘I’m gay, nobody knows about it, but this organization will expel me when I become an adult because they won’t accept me for who I am,'” said Dale. “That’s a horrible message to send to people.”
Last year, Boy Scouts of America youth membership fell by nearly 8 percent nationally to 2.4 million.
Dale said the decision to ban him was a national one though, and that he found a tremendous amount of support in New Jersey during his 10-year campaign against the ban.
“The Boy Scouts of America is not a democracy,” said Dale. “It’s a top-down organization with leadership in Texas and orders carried out on a local level, and you cannot disagree or else you’ll be expelled.”
Despite that ability, the national leaders did not take action when the BSA’s New York City council in April announced it would hire an openly gay Eagle Scout as a camp leader.
Several local scout councils reached for comment say they will follow whatever the national policy is.
“I think the Boy Scouts have had more than enough time,” said Dale. “Twenty-five years is a good chunk of time to figure it out and put a plan in place instead of just pretending it’s going to go away.”