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BSA closer to gay leadership, Easley says

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — The Walt Disney Company is playing into the hands of Boy Scouts of America by cutting donations to BSA, giving the Scouts greater public leverage to accept gay leaders, Atlanta area pastor Ernest Easley said today (March 7).

Disney in February joined a growing list of companies who have cut financial support to BSA because of the Scouts’ ban on openly gay leaders. Such pressure will make it easier for BSA to open Scout leadership to gay men, said Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church and chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

“Walt Disney has [apparently] done,” what the Boy Scouts wanted, Easley told Baptist Press. “They’ve done them a favor in putting more pressure out there for the Scouts to come back later on and say, ‘Here’s the deal. Walt Disney’s cut us…. We have no choice than to let the [gay] men be part of this.'”

BSA voted last May to allow openly gay youths to become Scouts beginning this year, but retained a Scout prohibition on gay leaders that survived a 2000 Supreme Court challenge. BSA’s national membership has dropped 6 percent in the past year, although the group doesn’t attribute the numbers to the policy change.

“I think it’s part of [the Boy Scouts] strategy,” Easley said. “… Why open the door to it? They knew that in May it was such a hot issue that they could not go all the way and let [gay] men be leaders in that organization. But they knew it was a matter of time.”

Disney does not give direct donations to the Scouts, but Disney’s VoluntEARS program allows its employees to do volunteer work in exchange for cash donations to the charities of their choice. Employees taking part in the VoluntEARS program will no longer be able to submit the funds to BSA, Disney said Feb. 28. The change goes into effect in January 2015.

Disney did not release any data to show how much money has gone to the Scouts through the VoluntEARS program. But Easley, whose church stopped hosting Scout troop meetings because of the inclusion of gay Scouts, said the issue is about promoting the inclusion of gay Scout leaders, not about money.

“I don’t really think it’s a money issue. I think it’s the principle of it,” Easley said. “I think that you’re going to continue seeing an effort from individuals and corporations to pressure them into taking the final step that [BSA] started in May of allowing homosexuals to be adult leaders in their organization.

“You’re going to have legislation, you’re going to have corporations, you’re going to have influential individuals continuing to put pressure on them,” Easley said. “And my guess is as I said last year, it’s going to happen. I think they want it to happen, the Scouts.”

Companies that have cut funding to BSA because it excludes gay leaders are Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Major League Soccer, Merck, Intel and UPS, said Scouts for Equality, a national group fighting for the inclusion of gay Scout leaders. Scouts for Equality applauded Disney.

“We’re never happy to see Scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy, but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive,” said Eagle Scout and Scouts for Equality co-founder Zach Wahls, the son of two lesbian parents. “Scouts for Equality will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive membership policy, to help build a stronger Scouting community that is eligible for the support of Corporate America.”

Other moves in the fight to open Scouting to gay leaders include the anticipated litigious fight on behalf of Pascal Tessier, a gay 17-year-old Maryland boy who in February was awarded Eagle Scout status, the highest ranking. At 18, he will be ineligible for Scout participation.

“On my 18th birthday, I’m planning on applying to be an adult leader for the Boy Scouts so that we push the issue,” Tessier has said.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).