Not sure if you heard, but yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on gay adult leaders, a move that was not-so subtly foreshadowed by president Robert Gates over the weekend. “For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us,” he declared. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good.”
As formerly fired troop leaders determinedly tie their kerchiefs back around their necks and return to work (in some places), it’s a good time to figure out what all helped instigate and usher in this tremendous sea change.
Below, we offer five key ingredients that aided in lifting the BSA ban.
1. Social Media
One of the reasons the equality movement has advanced so rapidly is the simple fact that social media lets people share personal stories with huge audiences at lightning speed. Debunking anti-gay arguments against ending the Boy Scouts ban — namely, that homosexual “conduct” is against the Scout Oath to be “clean in word and deed” — organizations like Scouts for Equality, which recently Tweeted a series of personal stories of men and women who’ve been fired from the BSA, help put a human face on the problem, showing how the BSA’s discriminatory policy has damaged and unmoored countless lives.
2. Legal Eagles
When high-stakes litigator David Boies took on 18-year-old Eagle Scout and gay activist named Pascal Tessier as a client and threatened to sue the Boy Scout’s under New York’s anti-discrimination laws, it put Robert M. Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, in a bind. Under this increased scrutiny, the Boy Scouts’ longstanding exclusionary policy would have likely fallen prey to high-profile court cases that would’ve foisted the BSA even deeper in a high-profile PR nightmare. Action had to be taken, and fast. Boies, a celebrity lawyer, built on the legal strategy of groups such as Lambda Legal and the ACLU, who had found this battle for nearly a quarter century.
Not that Boies deserves all the credit. Evan Wolfson, marriage freedom hero, represented Scoutmaster James Dale in the landmark case Boy Scouts of America v Dale; a case that first brought the BSA’s ban on gay troops into mainstream consciousness. Yasmin Cassini, a lesbian in Colorado who lost her job running a Scout center after coming out, hired John Schiller to represent her. Schiller worked pro bono in the hopes of adding more pressure to the BSA and forcing change. “This was a very important and difficult change for such an organization,” he said after the ban was finally lifted. “I definitely think it’s the beginning of building inclusive programs… it’s halfway where we want to be.”
In recent years, The Boy Scouts have been specifically targeting millennial parents; a last-ditch effort to stopper plummeting membership numbers and shoddy publicity. Their first marketing campaign in six years, “Build An Adventure,” attempted to rebrand the organization as an inclusive, free-spirited club; a transparent plea for forward-thinking, non-judgmental millennials to reconsider the BSA. (We’ve changed, we promise!) It’s common knowledge that millennials are less likely to distinguish among sexual orientations, and that they are even rethinking gender. They have little tolerance for religious dogma. The bottom line is always cynical: If the Boy Scouts of America want millennial money and troops, they’ll have to do away with their exclusionary policies for good, even if that means sacrificing support from the Mormon Church and other right-wing religious institutions.
4. Robert Gates
The former secretary of defense and current president of the Boy Scouts of America may be a Republican, but he’s been an often unheralded champion for gay rights as early as 1984, when, as president of Texas A&M University, he worked to improve student diversity and brought more LGBT students to the school. However, it should be mentioned that he’s naturally cautious in strategy — to the point of seeming positively glacial in taking action.
The Atlantic reports that in 1991, as director of central intelligence, he investigated whether members of the CIA were being blackmailed due to being gay, and he was a key figure in repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (although he dug in his heels for years, dodging the issue until finally admitting that DADT was doomed to fail). Even in 1993, he told the Wichita Rotarians, “Scouting must teach tolerance and respect for the dignity and worth of every individual person, certainly including gays.” If he’s seemed slow, it’s probably because he’s been waiting for the world at large to catch up with him.
5. SCOTUS and overall change in public sentiment
The dwindling membership and threat of litigation played no small part in lifting the blanket ban, but hard to say if they would’ve been enough to inspire the BSA to change if the drama hadn’t played out in a world who’s perspective on all things LGBT rhas evolved, and in a country that’s just bestowed the ultimate legitimacy upon our kind: the right to marriage.
However — whiplash! — it’s important to realize that this fight is far from over. Sure, the blanket ban is lifted, but religiously-affiliated troops are still basically allowed to ban gay adults based on their own whims and beliefs, and those troops are, of course, the very people who were discriminating against gay people in the first place. Think of yesterday’s ban as one more victory in what is an ongoing war.