WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last week, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter to the National President of Boy Scouts of America (BSA), Secretary Robert M. Gates, expressing the Reform Movement’s support for lifting the ban on gay scout leaders and calling on the BSA to affirm that transgender boys can participate in and lead BSA troops. The letter reflects the Reform Movement’s longstanding work on behalf of LGBT equality and our respect for the important role the Boy Scouts of America can play in cultivating strong values of leadership among youth:
“Dear Secretary Gates,
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, with membership of more than 2,000 Reform rabbis, I write to thank you for your remarks last week urging the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors to end the discriminatory ban prohibiting gay scout leaders. [pullquote]”…the Reform Movement’s support for lifting the ban on gay scout leaders and calling on the BSA to affirm that transgender boys can participate in and lead BSA troops.”[/pullquote]
As the largest Jewish denomination in North America, our synagogues were longtime homes to BSA troops, an association that many ended due to BSA’s policies prohibiting gay scouts and leaders. There was widespread support in our Movement across North America when the Boy Scouts of America opened its ranks to gay scouts in 2013 in what was a historic mark of progress for the organization. The victory, however, was bittersweet, as the Boy Scouts’ prohibition on gay adults serving as volunteers, scout leaders and staff continues to remain in effect. We hope that your recent words will lead to a change in BSA policy and a reestablishment of robust ties with our synagogues.
The promise of the Boy Scouts has always been to develop leadership, foster a sense of responsibility toward others, and strengthen the bonds of community. However, by continuing the exclusion of gay scout leaders these very goals are undermined.
The impact of this continuing ban is significant; gay youth continue to face high levels of bullying, discrimination, harassment, and tragically suicide. These young people, so frequently facing isolation in schools and in their family, need role models. By allowing gay scouts to participate but prohibiting gay scout leaders, the BSA is telling its gay scouts that they are not meant to be leaders. Having gay scout leaders would not only empower gay scouts to reach their true potential but would also allow troops to be led by the people who best embody the Scout’s values, regardless of their sexual orientation. [pullquote]The impact of this continuing ban is significant; gay youth continue to face high levels of bullying, discrimination, harassment, and tragically suicide.[/pullquote]
We also urge you to reconsider your comments that troops should remain free to set their own guidelines for leaders. It would be troubling if the national ban on gay scout leaders is lifted yet individual troops are permitted to discriminate. In addition, we hope that as BSA reconsiders its prohibition on gay scout leaders, you will also make clear your support for allowing transgender boys to serve as scouts and leaders. Similar to gay youth, transgender youth face high levels of bullying, discrimination, harassment, and suicide. Transgender boys would greatly benefit from the experience BSA offers.
All people, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), and thus have a place in our communities. The cause of equality and justice is an urgent one. We look forward to the day we can encourage our congregations to return to their historical role in hosting BSA troops; indeed, we hope that day may be soon.
Thank you for your openness and your consideration,
Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more information.
[From a News Release]