The national Boy Scouts of America announced this week that it may stop requiring local councils and units to ban gay members, but the announcement doesn’t address BSA’s antigay employment policy.
The employment issue is particularly relevant in Philadelphia, where city officials are trying to evict a local BSA council from a city-owned building due to its exclusionary membership and employment policies.
According to court records, the BSA Cradle of Liberty Council uses an employment-application form that expressly forbids the hiring of atheists and “avowed homosexuals.”
A copy of the form was entered into evidence in the eviction case, which remains pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Under the national BSA’s proposed policy change, local councils and units would be permitted to accept gay members and select gay leaders, if they so choose.
But the statement doesn’t mention the BSA’s ban on hiring atheists and “avowed homosexuals” in certain managerial roles.
Deron Smith, a national BSA spokesperson, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The policy change could be enacted as early as next week, at the BSA’s regularly scheduled board meeting in Texas.
If enacted, it would be a sharp reversal for the BSA, which reaffirmed its national ban on gays six months ago.
Cradle spokesperson Kera Armstrong had no comment on whether the local council would stop using the antigay employment-application form — regardless of whether the national BSA eases its employment restrictions.
Additionally, it remains unclear whether Cradle would extend full membership and employment rights to other groups protected by local antibias rules — including women, transgenders and the disabled.
According to court records, Cradle has consistently declined to sign an antibias agreement covering those groups.
The case awaits a briefing schedule for Cradle to answer the city’s November appellate brief.
Cradle contends the city owes it about $1 million in legal fees, but if the city’s appeal prevails, it won’t be required to pay those fees.
Meanwhile, Cradle continues to occupy the building on 22nd Street, near the Ben Franklin Parkway.
Gregg A. Kravitz, an LGBT activist who has followed the litigation, expressed mixed feelings about BSA’s announcement.
“It’s great the Scouts apparently will allow individual councils and units to accept gay members,” he said. “But if discrimination exists in employment practices, it’s sending a mixed message. The litigation should proceed until there’s no discrimination inside the building, period.”
He added the city shouldn’t settle if Cradle agrees to stop seeking legal fees from the city yet continues to discriminate in the building.
“That puts a price tag on civil rights, and I don’t believe we should do that,” Kravitz said.
Margaret A. Downey, president of the Freethought Society, an advocacy group for the nontheist community, echoed Kravitz’s sentiments.
“It’s of the utmost importance for the city to continue with the litigation until there’s no discrimination whatsoever in that building,” Downey said. “If it means Cradle’s eviction, so be it.”
Published reports state that the BSA’s proposed membership change doesn’t extend to atheists, because the BSA continues to view “duty to God” as a core principle.
Downey said the rights of everyone should be protected.
“We don’t want the city to throw nontheists aside as unimportant,” she added. “I just hope the LGBT community will fight for our rights. We have a long history of fighting for LGBT rights.”
Mark McDonald, a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter, said the city is closely monitoring the situation.
“The [eviction] case remains on appeal,” McDonald said in an email. “We are watching carefully what the national [BSA] organization is proposing.”
The national BSA has engaged a firm to receive and tally public opinions about the proposal.