The news that the LDS Church would be pulling older teens from the Boy Scouts of America was seen by many to be a welcome change.
The church’s official stated reason for the move is that the scouting program was no longer fulfilling the “spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals” of older boys. But some Utahns say this is only part of the story. Since the BSA began allowing gay and transgender boys and leaders to participate in the program, the LDS church cutting ties with scouting seemed inevitable. On social media, some Mormons expressed a belief that the move would allow the church to focus on teen development programs that put the faith’s principles first.
Peter Brownstein was a Boy Scout leader for several years until 2013, when he and other leaders marched in the Utah Pride Parade while wearing their scout uniforms. He sees the LDS Church’s decision as a positive one.
“It gives [the LDS Church] the ability to separate from an organization that is not meeting its needs,” he said. “And it gives them the ability to come up with their own program while allowing scouting to expand its diversity and inclusion to so many other people.”
The move could affect more than 180,000 LDS Boy Scouts nationwide, according to statements made by the church. But Brownstein says the change will be positive for everyone.
“Obviously there will be some short-term transition challenges to both organizations,” he said. “I believe it will work better for everyone in the long run.”
Other Utahns also see the change as a positive one.
“It’s an excellent move,” said Mark Lawrence, director of Restore Our Humanity, an LGBT rights organization in Salt Lake City that brought the Kitchen v. Herbert case to the Supreme Court that struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. Lawrence’s organization twice petitioned BSA for an LGBT-inclusive scouting charter. Their first petition was denied at the organization’s national level and the second request received no response.
Because the overwhelming majority of scout troops in Utah are sponsored by the LDS church and many activities are held in Mormon churches, many boys don’t want to join, Lawrence said.
“The truth is that most Mormon scout troops require [that] the troops subscribe to Mormon doctrine.”
Restore Our Humanity’s goal for the LGBT troop was to offer a secular scouting environment free from a particular religious doctrine.
“We had discussions with the BSA about their ‘Duty to God’ [requirement], and we told them, ‘[Our] scout troop will be better because we’re going to teach our troops about all religions and all faiths.’”
With Thursday’s announcement, Lawrence says the Boy Scouts may be on their way to welcoming all children.
Sydney Ireland, a New York teenager, has also been eagerly awaiting a more inclusive future for scouting. She and her brother Bryan started a Change.org petition asking for girls to be allowed into the Boy Scouts. Their petition calls for BSA to “end the discriminatory ban against young women and girls, and allow all children to participate in the Boy Scouts and earn the Eagle Rank.”
From age four, Sydney has participated in her local scouting activities and worked to achieve the prestigious Arrow of Light award. But because BSA doesn’t allow girls into its ranks, she cannot officially claim the award or earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Sydney still has hope that the BSA will soon open participation to young women so she can become an Eagle Scout like her brother.
“It means a lot because I’ve been part of this organization for so long, and I wouldn’t have stuck with it if I didn’t really love it.” Sydney said. “I could have just joined a different program, but I didn’t because I really believe in the mission of the Boy Scouts.”
She says she also believes in the values that Boy Scouts learn, including community service “and teaching people — currently only boys — to be great leaders and to serve other people.”
Sydney’s father, Gary, hopes to see scouting become open to all children, including his daughter.
“The [Scout] Oath and Law are the backbone of the organization, and there’s nothing in there that precludes girls or young women from participation,” he said.
If you ask the Irelands, the change feels like it could come as soon as this month. BSA officials will meet in May to discuss creating new opportunities for young women, NBC News reported. Recent statements made by AT&T CEO and BSA president Randall Stephenson reflect a desire to become more inclusive, but officials have not said what changes these discussions will lead to. Still, Gary is hopeful that the BSA will become a place for all children regardless of gender or sexual orientation. “We just hope that they’ll change their mind and open up the organization for everyone.”
Sydney and Bryan’s petition is at bit.ly/LetSydneyIn