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NY Boy Scouts hire gay adult despite US policy

April 2, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts’ New York chapter has challenged the scouting organization’s national ban on openly gay adult members by hiring a gay 18-year-old as a summer camp leader.

The Boy Scouts’ Greater New York Councils said Thursday they have hired Pascal Tessier, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout who achieved American scouting’s highest rank last year. He was the first openly gay scout to do so and is one of the most prominent scouts speaking out to change the ban on gay adults’ participation.

Board member Richard G. Mason said the councils see Tessier as “an exemplary candidate for employment as a camp leader.”

The Boy Scouts of America’s national spokesman, Deron Smith, said there was no change in that national policy, which has been highly divisive. As for any further response to the New York announcement, Smith said, “We are looking into this matter.”

The national organization changed its policy in 2013 to allow openly gay kids as scouts, but not adults as leaders, after a bitter debate over its membership policy. The change took effect in January 2014.

When the national Boy Scouts began allowing gay boys as scouts, liberal Scout leaders and gay rights groups celebrated the shift but called for allowing gay adults to participate, too. Conservatives involved with the Scouts, including some churches that sponsor troops, decried letting any gays — including kids — participate, and some threatened to defect if the ban were lifted.

The Boy Scouts of America has said it doesn’t “proactively inquire” about members’ sexual orientation — in effect, a form of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But it has expelled adults who were open about it, including a gay troop leader in Seattle who was removed last year after he disclosed his orientation during a TV interview.

Regardless, some local Boy Scout councils have let it be known they are open to gay employees, but the New York councils’ move presents an unusually acute departure from the national policy.

Advocates for letting gays participate in scouting hailed Tessier’s hire.

The 103-year-old New York group says it has never denied membership to a youth or adult based on sexual orientation, and it didn’t want its policy to be affected by the national group’s stance. The New York councils serve over 46,000 scouts.

Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, Tessier has been getting legal advice from prominent lawyer David Boies, whose recent causes include arguing for recognition of same-sex marriage.

Boise said it was possible that Tessier’s hiring could lead to litigation between the New York chapter and the BSA’s national headquarters, but he expressed hope this could be avoided.

Boy Scouts of America leaders, after wrestling with the membership policy in 2012 and 2013, have conveyed no interest in reopening the discussions.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who became the BSA’s president in May 2014, said at the time that he personally would have favored ending the ban on gay adults, but he opposed any further debate after the Scouts’ policymaking body upheld the ban. Reopening the issue, Gates said, “would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own.”