Cyberspace has been abuzz with the news that the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay members — but what has not been quite so advertised is the involvement of Jewish activists and community leaders in furthering this progress. Although the official Orthodox Jewish stance is to not recognize gay individuals’ sexual orientation as a legitimate mode of life (based on Leviticus 18:22 which says, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” and Leviticus 20:13 which instructs, “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them”), that same rejection of homosexuality is not the pervading stance in all Jewish circles.
According to the Baltimore Jewish Times, Jay L. Lenrow, Boy Scouts of America’s current executive vice president for the Northeast region and former Boy Scouts’ chairman of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, has been working for 12 years to lift the ban on allowing gay boys to participate.
After a vote on May 23 at the Boy Scouts of America’s annual meeting in Grape-vine, Texas where 61 percent of 1,400 members voted in favor of lifting the ban (in place since 1991) the new policy will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Lenrow expressed his hopes that the transition would be smooth and that the “Boy Scouts will continue to be about proper behavior, conduct and respect.”
Besides Lenrow, many other Jewish community leaders and rabbis had publically announced their support for the reform.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “In a meeting of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting in Feb., members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution lifting the BSA’s longstanding ban on gay members.”
“I am advocating for complete change and inclusiveness,” NJCOS Chairman A.J. Kreimer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this week. “I’m speaking with other people and as an area president, one of 26 in the country, I have advocated for fellow Scouters to do the same.”
In fact, as the Baltimore Jewish Times reports, “a group of more than 500 rabbis and cantors added their names to a letter sent to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America urging the end of the ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders. The letter effort was coordinated by the Washington, D.C.-based Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The organization wrote that the ban caused real harm to gay youths, adults and their families around the country as LGBT youth, and often the children of LGBT parents, face bullying, harassment, discrimination and higher rates of suicide. The belief is that these issues could be minimized by allowing these youth access to the structure and the positive environment that Scouting provides.”
Still, Lenrow admits that his efforts to bring equality to the Boy Scouts do not end here, and that he intends to advocate for leadership equality as well: “I’m confident I will be able to go back to the Scout leadership and show them there is nothing to be afraid of and that we should open our doors and do the right thing for all of those who want to be a part of the Boy Scouts.”