NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts' New York chapter said Thursday that it has hired the nation's first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader, which is in public contrast to the national scouting organization's ban on openly gay adult members.
The Boy Scouts' Greater New York Councils said they hired Pascal Tessier, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout who has been a vocal advocate of opening the 105-year-old organization to gay scouts and leaders.
Board member Richard G. Mason said the councils see Tessier as "an exemplary candidate for employment as a camp leader."
"We welcome him," Mason said in a statement.
The Boy Scouts of America didn't immediately respond to an inquiry about the hire. 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.
Advocates for letting gays participate in scouting hailed Tessier's hire.
"This is a watershed moment," Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, said in a statement. "We are proud to see such an important Boy Scout council standing up for the full inclusion of gay members."
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.
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.
Tessier achieved scouting's highest rank last year after being one of the most prominent openly gay scouts speaking out to change the ban on gay participation.
The Kensington, Maryland, teen said then he was relieved finally to have his Eagle badge approved by the Scouts' national headquarters in Irving, Texas.
"Even if I had been kicked out along the way, I wouldn't have changed anything," he said. "The whole experience was something worth having, not only for myself but also for all the other people involved — and for all the people it affects."