California Lawmakers Target Boy Scouts' Tax-Exempt Status Legislators are considering stripping the Boy Scouts of America of its tax-exempt status in the state because of the organization's ban on gay and lesbian adult leaders. Scout leaders warn the move would cause major damage to a group that serves 180,000 California youth.

California Lawmakers Target Boy Scouts' Tax-Exempt Status

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Beginning next year, the Boy Scouts of America will allow openly gay youth to join as members. For some Democratic lawmakers in California, though, the Scouts' change in policy doesn't go far enough. They're on the verge of passing a bill that would strip tax breaks for the Boy Scouts and any other group that discriminates against gay, lesbian or transgender people.

Scott Detrow of member station KQED has more on the latest California legislation that would strengthen gay rights.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Ask 17-year-old Chris Tennant what his favorite Boy Scouts experience is, and he'll tell you about the 91-mile backpacking trip his troop took through New Mexico last year. The Scouts got a chance to cook, shoot rifles, even climb up tall poles using ropes.

CHRIS TENNANT: And I was pretty terrified going into that. I wasn't sure if I was going to do it, as the rest of my troop was lining up. But I did it. I conquered my fear. And it was truly an amazing experience.

DETROW: Chris' dad, Steve, went on the 2012 trip too. It motivated him to take over one of the positions running Troop 57 in the Oakland suburb of Moraga.

STEVE TENNANT: I was like, wow, more boys deserve this opportunity. I could see the impact it had on them. It was transformational for me.

DETROW: But a week after Steve Tennant became one of the troop's committee chairs, a nearby Scout troop denied 17-year-old Ryan Andresen Scouting's highest honor, the Eagle badge, and then kicked him out of the organization. Their reason: Ryan is gay.

TENNANT: I found out about it a few days later and wondered for myself, did I join the wrong group here? Because I can't imagine being a part of a group that would do that to a boy, especially a group that's about helping turn boys into leaders.

DETROW: Andresen's ouster made national news, and its backlash helped push the organization to change its rules and allow gay youth to be members. But the organization still bars gay and lesbian adults from serving as leaders.

STATE SENATOR RICARDO LARA: And it's all, in my opinion, based on this homophobic sentiment that somehow you're an LGBT adult and somehow you pose a threat to children all of a sudden.

DETROW: That's Long Beach Democrat Ricardo Lara. He wrote the legislation that would take away the Scouts' nonprofit tax breaks. Lara's measure could cost California Boy Scouts $250,000 a year by forcing them to pay sales and use taxes. National Boy Scout leadership refused a request for an interview. In an emailed statement, the organization said, quote, "The state of California needs Scouting, which gives young people the opportunity to develop skills and take responsibility while inspiring a lifetime of character and service."

The California Association of Nonprofits also opposes the measure. CEO Jan Masaoka says she's anti-discrimination, but she doesn't think the relatively obscure board that oversees California tax policy should be in the position of ruling on whether or not youth groups discriminate.

JAN MASAOKA: This particular narrowing down and targeting of youth groups, which is basically a very thinly veiled attack just on Boy Scouts of America, it's a distasteful way to do public policy.

DETROW: California has a long history of passing aggressive laws championing gay and transgender rights. In the last two years, Governor Jerry Brown signed laws banning gay conversion therapy, allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice and requiring schools to teach gay history.

But the Scout bill is a bit trickier. Even though Democrats hold broad majorities in the state legislature, voting against the Boy Scouts is like voting against apple pie. The bill passed the state Senate earlier this year. It's now waiting a final Assembly vote. For NPR News, I'm Scott Detrow in Sacramento.

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