Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Washington Women in Public Relations
In March I wrote about the continued controversy over the Boy Scout of America’s (BSA) ban on gay members and leaders. At the time, the BSA Council was due to vote in May on lifting the ban and I explored the ramifications of how this would affect the BSA’s overall image as the country’s oldest and largest youth scouting organization.
Former and present Boy Scouts, leaders, parents, and community leaders waited over the next few months for the decision to come through. In the end, the BSA Council tallied 757 yes votes and 475 no votes on ending the ban on gay Boy Scout members. But, to the dismay of many and relief of others, the BSA Council refused to allow gay men and women to serve in Boy Scout leadership positions. A decidedly unequal victory, in other words.
In the weeks that followed the historic vote, news stories reported on church groups vowing to drop all ties with BSA while others were opting to take a different, more welcoming approach. However, well-known corporate sponsors such as Caterpillar opted to drop their financial support completely. But it was plain for everyone to see that the Boy Scouts would be forced to continue dealing with challenges to its image and reputation for years to come.
I must admit my view on the Boy Scouts is personal, in part because my son was a Cub Scout for two years before the gay member and leader ban was put to a nationwide vote. I wanted him to have a similar experience as I did in the Girl Scouts growing up—one that was memorable, educational and formative in all the ways that scouting can be. But, I remained uncomfortable with the fact that he was part of an organization that discriminated against the very same people I count as dear friends and relatives. And that is important for one key reason: in public relations, regardless of the client, issue, message or spin, everything is personal to someone, somewhere.
Last month, the Supreme Court’s decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional will only serve to bolster those promising to continue the fight to allow gay men and women to serve as Boy Scout leaders. Why? Because some of those gay men and women are parents of boys who want nothing more than to be part of the long scouting tradition that instills values of leadership and citizenship and experiences that will forever shape their childhood and future as young men. Intolerance to discrimination against gays is fast becoming the norm, not anomaly, in this country.
Communicating why the ban was lifted on some, but not others, is something the BSA will have to work hard on and so far, the jury is out on just how well they’ve done. The optics, therefore, of this lopsided victory in which the BSA has said yes to gay members but no to gay leaders, remains no less controversial and decidedly unequal.
Jessica Williams is Vice President at C.Fox Communications, a mission-driven strategic communications agency with offices in Silver Spring, MD and Washington, DC. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/oysterviewpoint