Boy Scouts Send Damaging Message to Already Vulnerable Teens
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

In June, the US Supreme Court overturned last year’s unanimous ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court against the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) discriminatory anti-gay membership policy. The High Court ruling allows the Boy Scouts to prevent gay boys and men from becoming members. 

Many believe this message sent to gay and lesbian youth is potentially dangerous because they are already a vulnerable group. A 1989 study by the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than  heterosexual youth. Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian, youth, with 30 percent of all completed youth suicides occurring in this group. 

 “Any time we see a national level, high profile statement it always makes us nervous because it’s sending a message to youth who are gay, lesbian or bisexual that they’re different and that [the]  difference is wrong,” said Eric Ferrero, Spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. Ferrero, like others, fears the message sent to gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, “is very, very dangerous.” 

Boy Scouts of America v. Dale 

The case began with the Boy Scouts’ expulsion of James Dale from membership after 12 years of scouting. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that the BSA, like other large organizations holding themselves out as open to the public, is a “public accommodation” subject  to the state Law Against Discrimination and could not deny any person “accommodations, advantages, facilities and priviledges” on the basis of sexual orientation.  

Both courts credited the BSA’s size, its presentation as “open to all boys,” and its close and privileged relationship with local, state and federal government. (BSA is chartered by Congress, receives benefits and special access from the military, state agencies, municipalities, police and fire department, and even the public schools, who sponsor 20 percent of the troops.) Both courts also rejected the BSA’s asserted first amendment defense, finding that the “core expressive purposes” for which members join scouting do not include anti-gay prejudice. 

According to Beatrice Dohrn, Legal Director of LAMBDA (Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented Dale), under New Jersey’s civil rights law the Boy Scouts are prohibited from discriminating and this law applies to both private and public organizations. However, the Boy Scout ruling is, “not really an issue of public or private,” she said. Apart from the public v. private argument, Dohrn said that the Boy Scouts’ argument centered around the First Amendment and the organization’s expulsion of homosexuals was their right to express their message through the interpretation of the Boy Scout Code. “Our position is that it’s not about message, it’s about discrimination,” said Dohrn. The Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to express a viewpoint, even a  homophobic one, but Dohrn believes that the court mixed up the expression of a viewpoint with the discrimination of a person based on who they are.  

In a news release filed by the BSA, the organization states that it is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dale case. In addition, it stated that, “we believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.” 

The Impact 

“The court case is over, but the impact is not over,” said Dohrn. The BSA is not an organization whose typical stopping ground is in court. Therefore, the impact of the Supreme Court decision will be seen in  schools, churches and communities nationwide. According to Dohrn, the BSA should begin to feel a financial impact. They receive a large amount of special funding from the government and since they are a discriminator against gays and the government can’t discriminate, most likely funding will cease. 
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the largest national organization working to end anti-gay bias in K-12 schools, announced recently that it will continue educating public school administrators about the exclusionary practices of the BSA and the harmful effects these polices have on gay youth. It has been estimated that thousands of BSA troops are sponsored by public schools and other public entities, and that many troops have sought and gained privileged access to public schools for instruction during the school day. GLSEN expressed concern with the message it says the court has sent to public schools that associate with the Boy Scouts: anti-gay discrimination is not only accepted, but protected behavior. 

“It would be difficult for any youth to interpret a school-sponsored scouting troop as a state-sanctioned message in support of anti-gay discrimination,” said Mary Kate Cullen, GLSEN Director of Public Policy in a written release. “This offers some youth a license to hate their peers and others a reason to hate themselves. We call on all schools that participate with the Scouts to help end these unjust practices and send gay youth a message of inclusiveness.” 

 “The biggest change I hope to see is that the Boy Scouts voluntarily will change their view,” because they decide it doesn’t reflect the view of their constituents, said Dohrn. 


Eric Ferrero, Spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, 212.549.2568 

Contact Jim Anderson, GLSEN Communications Director, for more information at 212.727.0135 or visit
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network on the web at 

Beatrice Dohrn, Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, 212.809.8585, 

Boy Scouts of America,
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339