It’s that time of year! The newest class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants arrived at the RAC two weeks ago, and jumped right into the Washington, D.C. world of politics, advocacy and social justice. We are so looking forward to what they will do and accomplish for tikkun olam this year. Clockwise from the top left: Read more…
In response to the news late last month that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had ended its controversial ban against gay scout leaders, the Commission on Social Action (CSA) of Reform Judaism sent a memo last week to all of the nearly 900 Union for Reform Judaism member congregations, informing them their 2001 recommendation that congregations not sponsor BSA troops has been rescinded. While the new BSA policy is an important step forward for LGBT equality, some concerns remain. The text of that memo can be found below.
In 2001, the Commission on Social Action sent a memo to all URJ congregations and CCAR Rabbis concerning the Boy Scouts of America policy of discrimination against gay scouts and scout masters. The memo stated, “While we maintain our hope that the Boy Scouts of America will abandon its discriminatory policies, its lack of response to the many expressions of disagreement and disappointment with the policies gives us little basis for optimism. Therefore, and with pain, we must recommend that congregations sponsoring/housing troops/packs withdraw sponsorship of a troop/pack and/or stop housing one.”
We took this position based on the URJ and CCAR’s longstanding commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and our support for full equality of gays and lesbians in all aspects of congregational and civic life. As a result, the overwhelming number of Reform congregations that had a relationship with the BSA severed those ties.
On July 27, 2015 the Boy Scouts of America voted to adopt a policy change in their leadership standards for adults. The new policy states: “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.” This policy change builds on a previous policy adopted by the BSA in 2013 opening its ranks to gay youth.
The BSA’s new leadership standards for adults is a positive step reflecting the fact that leadership ability is never determined by sexual orientation. It assures that gay youth in the scouting movement will see themselves reflected in positive adult role models. Scouts for Equality, an organization composed largely of Boy Scouts of America alumni dedicated to ending the BSA’s ban on gay members and leaders, hailed the policy change. Zach Wahls, SFE’s Executive Director, said in a statement, “We’re calling on gay Eagle Scouts, parents who are straight allies, non-profit organizations who support LGBT equality and anyone else who has walked away from the Boy Scouts to rejoin the fold. Together, we can build a stronger, more inclusive Scouting movement.” ￼￼
There are however, two areas where the CSA continues to have concerns about BSA policy:
1. The new BSA leadership standard for adults applies only to non-religious chartered BSA units. As the BSA’s website explains: The Boy Scouts of America issues charters to civic, faith-based, and educational organizations to operate scouting units to deliver the programs to their youth members, as well as the community at large. Over 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by chartered organizations. Of these:
- 71.5 percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations.
- 21.3 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations.
- 7.2 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations.
That means that 71.5% of units will still be allowed, if they so wish, to bar gay leaders. Different denominations, based on their faith teachings, will make their own internal decisions about what their leadership policies will be. However, at the national level, and among all non- religious chartered BSA units, no discrimination is allowed.
2. The new BSA leadership standard is silent about the participation of transgender individuals. Although the participation of transgender scouts and leaders was not part of the concerns the Commission on Social Action raised in our 2001 memo, changing times and understandings of gender and gender identity compel us to note with concern BSA’s silence on this issue. We will continue to urge the BSA to have a fully inclusive policy for scouts and leaders.
After considering the BSA policy change, the response from advocates within the scouting community generally and in particular, Scouts for Equality as a leading voice within the gay scouting community, the Commission on Social Action has concluded that if a URJ congregation wishes to re-establish ties with the BSA and host a fully inclusive and welcoming unit, it should do so. However, we note with great concern the fact that some religiously chartered BSA units will continue to discriminate against gay leaders. We will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive and welcoming BSA for leaders and scouts who are gay and/or transgender, and we encourage those synagogues who elect to rejoin the BSA to participate whole-heartedly in this effort.
The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism is a joint body of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism and its affiliates that seeks to apply the insights of Jewish tradition to domestic and foreign issues of social justice.
From the Equality Act of 1974 to the Equality Act of 2015: Protecting LGBT People from Discrimination
On July 23, 2015, I had the opportunity to join the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Deputy Director, Rachel Laser, at the Capitol Building for a press conference for the introduction of the Equality Act.
The Equality Act (H.R. 3185/S. 1858) would amend existing civil rights legislation in order to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal funding, education, credit, and jury selection based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit sex discrimination in public accommodations and federal funding. The bill and its introduction were historic in many ways, especially since the LGBT community has focused on just federal employment non-discrimination protections for the past two decades.
The legislative assistant offices at the RAC have a strange feel to them today—all of the zany pictures and decorations adorning our desks have been removed, the usual desktop clutter has vanished and there is a strong scent of cleaning solution flowing through the air. After 50 weeks at the RAC, it’s our last day, and an opportunity for us to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve witnessed during our time here. Read more…
The air stood still in Jerusalem’s Zion Square last night.
More than a thousand teens and young adults gathered there to attend a memorial service organized by the Jerusalem Open House. They came to grieve the loss of Shira Banki, the 16-year old girl who died yesterday afternoon days after being stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man at last Thursday’s Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride March. Read more…
Last night the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to ends its national ban on gay scout leaders and employees. While this vote represents an important step forward for the BSA, the resolution also allows chartered organizations to select their leaders based on their religious beliefs, therefore allowing individual troops to continue to ban gay scout leaders. In 2013, Rabbi David Saperstein, then-Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote a letter calling on the BSA to end their ban on gay scouts and gay scout leaders and called for the BSA to establish a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. The BSA eventually lifted their ban on gay scouts, and last month, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the RAC, wrote a letter calling on the BSA to lift their ban on gay scout leaders and affirm that transgender boys can serve as both scouts and leaders. Although the ban on gay scout leaders has now been lifted, the BSA has remained silent on transgender inclusion.
When I came out to my parents in high school as gay, I was fortunate enough to have their full acceptance and love. However, I remember my mom saying early on that she was saddened to know the difficulties I would now have to face because of my identity. But I was already aware of some of those challenges: bullying and homophobia, the inability to get married in most states and a ban on serving in the military.
On Wednesday night at the ESPY Awards, Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named after the African American tennis star who died of AIDS in 1993. In her moving speech, Caitlyn described the struggles trans people face, including bullying, suicide and even murder, and the importance of education and accepting trans people and their identities. Caitlyn’s speech highlighted several of the many issues that the LGBT community and their allies now have to address following the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.