Philly Boy Scouts council opens door to gay leaders

Declaring itself “an inclusive organization” open to “any person of good will, Philadelphia’s Boy Scout council has decided to allow openly gay adults to be Scout leaders.

“Discrimination in any form, including but not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is contrary to the Scout Oath and law, and we in the Cradle of Liberty Council will vigorously oppose it from whatever source,” the organization said in a statement issued Friday.

Nearly a month ago, the Boy Scouts of America president urged a policy change, and the national organization allowed local chapters to adopt their own policies.

Jim Papada, president of Cradle of Liberty Council, said Friday that “the national Boy Scouts will take no action to stop” the Philadelphia group’s new policy. The council serves about 15,000 Scouts in the Philadelphia region.

While some local chapters have adopted non-discrimination policies, the national leadership has not yet budged on the issues of gay leaders, although it does allow gay Scouts.

“It has been in the news now for about a month that national is considering a change in the policy as well,” Papada said. “Although, as you must realize, it’s a lot more difficult to change a national policy, which has to be suitable for the entire country, than it is to change a local policy, which is suitable for local conditions.”

“The news” Papada referred to is the speech that Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates gave at the Scouts national annual meeting last month. Gates, who referred to the ban on openly gay leaders as unsustainable, said, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

Those remarks could signify a change of heart, Papada said.

“I think that the signals in May, when the national president made his remarks on this issue, give one the indication that some change is afoot and will be announced sooner rather than later,” he said.

The debate over the Scouts policy has been smoldering for 15 years.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New Jersey case that the Scouts have a constitutional right to prohibit openly gay leaders, overturning a state ruling.

In 2003, the Cradle of Liberty Council moved to implement a nondiscriminatory policy but reversed it under pressure from the national organization, which held that local chapters could not permit openly homosexual leaders.

Ten years later, the Cradle of Liberty Council relocated to suburban Wayne, Pennsylvania, after a prolonged legal fight with the City of Philadelphia over the policy on gay leaders.

Because of that exclusion, the city sought to charge rent to the Scouts for the headquarters, which was built with private funds on city-owned land.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.