Our Mission, Vision, & Values
Scouts for Equality is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization committed to ensuring that the Boy Scouts of America continues to be an organization that contributes positively to the lives of America’s young people. As Scouts, leaders, parents, volunteers, and supporters, we believe that inclusion and mutual respect are traditional Scouting values integral to building character, developing leadership, and promoting good citizenship. We will continue to strive for a Scouting movement that is rooted in equality and is free of discrimination.
The vision of Scouts for Equality is of an inclusive, vibrant, and strong Boy Scouts of America in which members, leaders, parents, volunteers, and supporters treat each other with mutual respect and acknowledge the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
The values of the Scout Law and the creed of the Scout Oath will guide Scouts for Equality’s continued work.
Where We’ve Been
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) first implemented its blanket ban on openly gay members and leaders in 1978, and maintained that ban for decades. This ban endured numerous legal challenges at the state and federal level, including a 2000 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States affirming the Boy Scouts of America’s constitutional right to discrimination in the 5-4 decision of BSA v. Dale.
Following a decade of rapid progress for LGBTQ rights in the United States, the BSA’s ban re-entered the national spotlight in April 2012 when Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian Den Mother from Ohio, was ousted from her son’s Cub Scout Pack. From June 2012 to May 2013, Scouts for Equality worked relentlessly to increase public awareness of the Boy Scouts of America’s discriminatory membership standard and urging BSA leaders to end the ban as quickly as possible. On May 23, 2013—just ten months after doubling down on the policy of discrimination—BSA leadership voted to end the BSA’s ban on gay youth with 61.3% voting in favor.
Over the next year, Scouts for Equality launched a multifaceted strategy aiming to continue pressure on BSA to finish off their blanket ban on gay adults once and for all. On July 27, 2015, the Boy Scouts of America’s Executive Board voted to end the BSA’s blanket ban on gay adults with 79% voting in favor. Three years, one month, and twenty-one days after the founding of Scouts for Equality, our primary objective had been achieved, but plenty of work remains to both help Scouting heal its wounds and to continue to strengthen diversity and inclusion with the Boy Scouts of America.
During all this time, the BSA had never implemented a formal policy on transgender Scouts and Scouters. Scouts for Equality felt it prudent to adopt a “wait and see” approach, so as not to provoke a situation which could potentially lead to a formal policy of discrimination. However, on December 27, 2016, less than 2 years after ending the ban on gay adults, the BSA forced this issue by removing Joe Maldonado, an 8-year old transgender boy, from his Cub Scout pack in New Jersey. Scouts for Equality joined with Garden State Equality to speak out on Joe’s behalf and to inform Scouts and Scouters of this injustice. Meanwhile, Joe and his mother attracted significant media attention and shared his story with the world. On January 30, 2017, a little over a month from when the news broke, the BSA changed course. Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh addressed the BSA via a video recording, announcing that the BSA would begin accepting boys based on the gender identity indicated on the application – not their birth certificate.
From Scouts for Equality’s Mission, Vision, and Values, we set one core strategic goal: We will build up, support, and promote inclusive Scouting in the Boy Scouts of America.
Winning an end to the BSA’s blanket ban on gay youth and adults was never the sole goal of Scouts for Equality. Our long-term vision has always been of a strong and vibrant American Scouting movement. Now that the Boy Scouts of America has ended its blanket ban, our work will now shift into protecting the gains we have secured, continuing to advance equality, and helping to grow Scouting. Conveniently, all three of these objectives can be met by pursuing a single strategic goal: building up and promoting inclusive Scouting.
By creating fully inclusive Boy Scout units and bringing back into the Scouting family those chartering partners that left the Boy Scouts so many years ago, we not only make it more difficult for the Boy Scouts to backslide, but we also shift the potential of what future change may look like. And it should go without saying that more fully inclusive BSA units will help us realize our vision of a stronger Scouting movement.
We plan on accomplishing this goal by focusing our staff and volunteer resources on the following:
Strategy One — Support the creation of new, fully-inclusive Boy Scout units
We will dedicate our staff and volunteer resources to the creation of new, fully-inclusive Boy Scout units, who will work with new BSA national chartering partners, proactively reach out to new local chartering partners, and support those individuals interested in creating new units.
We will attempt to grow most of these units through large organizations. If we are able to facilitate the creation of a single unit within these organizations, we can then publicize that unit and build on that moment, rather than trying to start random units here and there. We will aim to identify a handful of major national organizations and focus on those groups and their respective chapters and/or congregations. If we are able to get to at least ten, we should be able to secure some positive PR around those units, and use that to find more leads for more units. The hope, essentially, is that once we’ve overturned one stone, that stone might be able to help find other stones that might be easily turned over.
We receive frequent requests from parents and community members asking us if there are inclusive units in their areas. By creating a national registry of these units, we will be able to both effectively direct those people to those units and also help those units stay up to date on the best practices of LGBT inclusion.
Any new unit we create will be immediately directed towards this program. A large portion of this work will involve reaching out to progressive units through the relationships we already have, including with progressive religious chartering partners and with friendly BSA Councils.
Strategy Three — Assist LGBT people pursuing BSA leadership positions
A critical component of enduring social change in an institution is the actual, visible presence of minority groups serving in leadership positions of those institutions. The Boy Scouts of America is no different. Where possible, we will assist LGBT people who are pursuing such positions. The presences of out LGBT people in BSA leadership will serve to both humanize the change in policy and to create stronger cultural competency within BSA.
Due to the significant scope of the Boy Scouts of America’s national organization, we will largely depend on our grassroots volunteers to help us identify potential or current LGBT BSA leaders. We will also encourage our staff and Board to engage their social networks in an attempt to identify and encourage out LGBT people with Scouting experience to begin the process of getting involved with their local Councils and/or alumni association chapters. Finally, we will maintain a database of who these people are and work to connect them with each other so as to help them effectively support each other.
Grassroots volunteers have been critical to the success of Scouts for Equality since our beginning. In the last two years, we have been able to corral many of those volunteers into a cohesive chapter structure. Now that the blanket ban on gay BSA members has ended, these chapters will be more important than ever in maintaining our visibility, helping to register those fully inclusive units that already exist and to help create new units, and to act as a watchdog and to make sure that the Boy Scouts actually follow the policies they say they will. In order to ensure the sustainability of this program, we will be transitioning the management of our chapter program to a group of all volunteers.
We have found our volunteers to be passionate and capable of effectively operating with minimal guidance. By mimicking the structure of Scouting in our membership organization, we both capitalize on a structure already familiar to our members and further position Scouts for Equality as a group that is first and foremost a Scouting organization.
Strategy Five — Education and training
It remains the case that Boy Scouts of America members and leaders often lack basic understandings of LGBT identity, even when those individuals are well intentioned. We have already developed a number of effective training modules, and we have grassroots volunteers creating even more. As we build our relationships with BSA Councils to promote the Inclusive Unit Award (and registry) and to create new units, we will include our educational and training materials in what we offer. It should also be noted that these are the same materials we will be making available to units through our Inclusive Unit Award.
Our ability to circulate these programs and actually get them implemented will depend on our ability to build effective working relationships with BSA Councils. We already have educational programs including LGBT resources for merit badges, a general LGBT education/training, and our YPT+ program. If the BSA’s new Chief Diversity Officer focuses on all aspects of diversity within Scouting, we hope to see more rapid uptake of these materials across the country.
The Inclusive Scouting Award is easily the highest profile symbol of inclusive Scouting. To date, Scouts for Equality has delivered more than 30,000 ISAs across the country and across the world. The Inclusive Scouting Award not only serves as a visible sign of our work, but it helps LGBTQ youth know that the person wearing the ISA is someone who can be trusted if help or assistance is needed. The distribution of the Inclusive Scout Award is currently handed by a small group of SFE volunteers, and the costs of the award are offset by the donations made by those who request them.
We have created an effective national and international distribution network that has resulted in less wait time for those who have ordered the ISA. We are experiencing organic growth in demand, which highlights the importance of this award – even after the adult membership policy change.
Strategy Seven — Support international inclusive scouting efforts
While we have enjoyed considerable success in our efforts, there are still scouting programs across the world that continue to prohibit the participation of openly gay youth and adults. While the lessons we have learned in our campaign are specific to the Boy Scouts of America and generally reflect the sentiments of the United States, there are hopefully some lessons that apply on a broader international scale. Although we do not have the capacity to directly support other inclusive scouting efforts, if we are able to create a small package of materials that can be accessed by other advocates, we may be able to advance this work internationally. While international considerations almost certainly played a minimal (or even non-existent) role in the BSA’s internal calculus, a more inclusive international Scouting movement certainly cannot hurt the chances of the BSA remaining fully inclusive.
We will work to create a basic guide which will include oral history of SFE members and partners answering a shared set of questions, a brief explanation of the SFE campaign, and basic design assets used by SFE. This will be a static document intended to act as a case study, not a dynamic or culture-specific document for each country seeking assistance.