After a long, thoughtful process, BSA members amend the organization’s longstanding membership standards for youth.
IN A DIM BALLROOM, nearly 1,400 volunteer voting members of the Boy Scouts of America—and about 1,000 additional onlookers—collectively hold their breath. Just a day earlier, the room echoed with the sometimes-tense vocalization of voting members’ opinions regarding a resolution set to amend the BSA’s membership standards for youth.
National President Wayne Perry cuts the silence. “Whatever this says”—he pauses, raising the results envelope in front of his green Venturing uniform—“we have to come together. We love this movement. The BSA is too important to let anything in this envelope divide us.”
The conclusion and the most-anticipated moment of the 2013 National Annual Meeting? After a careful count by third-party firm TrueBallot, 61.44 percent (or 757 members) vote in favor of the resolution amending the BSA’s membership policy, removing the restriction excluding youth based only on sexual orientation. The adult membership-standards policy excluding gay leaders was not under review and therefore remains in place.
The results announcement takes a split second, but this was not a split-second decision. The vote embodies a months-long review of the BSA’s membership standards, which involved a respectful and open discussion among registered members, parents, and youth. This family discussion guided the BSA’s officers in drafting a resolution to amend the organization’s membership standards. And now, the feedback gathered during the earlier stages of this process remains relevant as adult volunteers and parents work to adapt to this historic change, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
MANY OF THE THOUGHTS expressed during the BSA’s survey period parallel those shared during the three-day meeting. At an information session the day before voting opened, the BSA’s Key 3 took the stage. Perry, Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock, and National Commissioner Tico Perez each took time to discuss his personal feelings of conflict and his conclusions.
Perry described his own arduous decision-making process. He then commended the BSA’s historic “comprehensive listening” effort, which included a wide-ranging survey process with registered volunteers and parents, Scouting alumni, as well as youth—both current members and nonmembers. It’s through this thoughtful polling that the BSA officers gauged the majority opinions shared by those influencing and delivering the Scouting program.
Among the discoveries, perhaps the most notable is a question posed in the Voice of the Scout survey, which gathered responses from registered volunteers and parents. The scenario asked: Would it be acceptable to deny an openly gay Scout an Eagle Scout Award solely because of his sexual orientation? The overwhelming response was “no.” While respondents expressed support for the longstanding membership-standards policy for adults, the survey reflected that these members were less likely to agree with removing a Scout from the program solely based on sexual orientation, as opposed to his behavior.
The polling also found that, among parents under 50, support for the current membership policy had waned. Additionally, parents, Scouts, and members of the Scouting community did not express their support for a local chartered organization policy. (You can read more about the in-depth findings of the BSA’s listening phase by visiting bsamembershipstandards.org and clicking on “Voting Information.”)
Only after gathering this feedback did the BSA Executive Committee draft a resolution to be voted on by members at May’s meeting. Although the resolution called for an open policy among youth members, feedback from Scouting stakeholders did not support amending the membership standards for adult leaders. Therefore, this was not included in the resolution.
At the voter information meeting, Perry reiterated that it was with this feedback, as well as discussion within his personal-faith network as a member of the LDS church, that he arrived at his own opinion: Amending the membership-standards policy to include all youth is “the right decision for Scouting.”
After commentary from the Key 3, voting members were invited to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the resolution. One representative questioned the interpretation of “morally straight” in the Scout Oath. To this, Perry replied that, with the policy change, “No matter the sexual orientation, Scouts cannot act on their convictions at a Scouting event.” Perry went on to note that the proposed membership-policy resolution falls in line with major religious chartered organizations, as these groups do not expel members of their congregation for merely expressing a same-sex attraction but not acting upon it.
The tough questions continued—what about Youth Protection? Fundraising? Duty to God? This respectful family dialogue didn’t come without tense moments, yet the varied opinions only reinforced each person’s passionate feelings for the Scouting movement. Members kept calm, took their turns at the microphone, and returned to their seats to listen to others. One member remarked, “Now, if only the U.S. Congress could have a discussion like this.” A welcome—albeit brief—bit of comic relief.
FAST-FORWARD 24 HOURS and this same crowd now knows the fate of the BSA’s future: to serve all youth. And despite the differences among voting members, the group gathers yet again on the final day of the annual meeting for the closing session. This time on stage, immediate past BSA National President Rex Tillerson takes on the challenge of addressing the reverberating question: Now what?
“Most of the reasons that organizations fail at change is pretty simple,” he says. “People don’t understand why. They don’t understand the mission. They don’t understand what this means for them. They don’t understand their role.” Now, the most important job is to communicate with Scouting supporters back in each member’s home council, he says.
As the CEO of ExxonMobil Corp., Tillerson is no stranger to the task of making tough decisions or venturing into uncharted territory because of a change in course. “Regardless of where you were on this decision, it’s also very normal for people to feel like there are winners or losers. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. … There are neither winners nor losers. What’s left after we made the decision to change is the mission, and the mission has not changed. But how are we going to implement the change?”
Tillerson says teams are now working to develop implementation and communications plans. But he also noted that it falls on the representatives attending the meeting to return to their councils and help talk about the change and answer the “legitimate concerns and fears” of others. He points back to the voter information session as an example of a chorus of opinions and perspectives. “I’m going to use those things I learned—perspectives I didn’t have—and that’s going to help me talk to others about [this change].”
With the new membership policy going into effect Jan. 1, Tillerson reiterates that the interim will serve as an additional listening period to address the concerns of Scouting families and volunteers, as well as provide ample time for the BSA to arm members with the knowledge and resources needed to move forward.
From his personal experience, Tillerson says, “You really do get swamped with what’s changing. … It’s really useful to step back, look at everything, and also recognize what’s not changing. Because more often than not, most things are not changing.” The Main Thing—serving youth—remains the same, he says, citing all of the troops heading out for their weekend campouts and those who will continue to meet come Monday evening. “None of that’s changing. … And none of that will change unless you do something that changes that.”
And as for the future of Scouting, Tillerson says he has “great confidence” because the BSA has “all of the ingredients that organizations would love to have when they’re going through significant change. … We have a very clear mission statement—to serve our youth; we have a very clear, common set of codes of conduct: the Scout Oath and Law.” He also notes the BSA’s trained leadership, resources for future training, a “best-of-class” Youth Protection program, strong investments, and youth programs. What’s more, he says, “We have an unlimited customer base.”
Most businesses, he says, have to define these factors for their employees and customers as a way to implement change—teaching the mission, the code of conduct, and more. But not the BSA. He says, “We have an enormous amount of foundational capacity on which to be successful.
“You got on a train to a destination we didn’t know. … We arrived and we’re at the destination—and the destination is we’re going to make a change,” he continues. “I know where this train’s going. It’s going to millions of kids that want to be served. We need every one of you to be on that train.”
The New Standard
The following membership standard for youth members of the Boy Scouts of America is hereby adopted and approved, effective Jan. 1, 2014:
“Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Stay up-to-date on the BSA’s implementation plan for the membership-policy change by visiting bsamembershipstandards.org. And subscribe to our blog at blog.scoutingmagazine.org. We’ll keep you updated with need-to-know info and send it directly to your inbox.
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MORE NEWS FROM NAM
Focus on STEM
World-famous oceanographer Bob Ballard wowed Scouting supporters at the Americanism Breakfast with his impressive tales: his discovery of the Titanic, his Avatar-esque remotely operated underwater vehicle named “Hercules,” and his focus on educating the next generation of scientists. Ballard introduced the second-ever Eagle Scout Argonaut, 16-year-old C.B. Wren, and he’s hungry for more. He says, “Give me all the Eagle Scouts you’ve got!” Watch Ballard’s address at NESA.org. Also at the breakfast, NESA announced the newest recipient of the $50,000 NESA STEM Scholarship, MIT student Patrick Lowe.
Change certainly was in the air at the 2013 National Annual Meeting, resulting in vast tweaks to the 15-year-old Venturing program. Because of a decline in membership and a drop in the number of youth earning Venturing awards, the changes will include a freshly designed advancement program, new training programs, and much more. Get an in-depth look at these alterations on our blog.
Summit in 2014
Yes, you read that right: 2014. Of course everyone had a great time at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, which opened the Summit Bechtel Reserve, but what happens now? Summit CEO Jack Furst says the reserve will offer world-class high-adventure summer programs in 2014, aiming to attract 25,000 youth. Learn more and register at summit.scouting.org.
Ready to Set Sail
John H. Clark, director of high-adventure programs, announced the Sea Base’s new-to-the-repertoire tall-ship sailing and scuba program based in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, set to open in 2014. (See bsaseabase.org/adventures.aspx for more details.) And if that didn’t inspire you to practice your bowlines, the revamped Sea Scout uniforms—modeled by Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock himself—certainly did the trick.
GRETCHEN SPARLING is Scouting magazine’s Associate Editor.