Ropes & Gray Hosts Discussion on Landmark Gay Rights Supreme Court Case for LGBTQ Pride Month

June 28, 2019
James Dale
At Ropes & Gray’s LGBTQ Pride Month event, civil rights activist James Dale discussed his role in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Boy Scouts of America policy of excluding gay youth and adults.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, Ropes & Gray hosted civil rights activist James Dale for a discussion on his role in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) policy of excluding gay youth and adults. Mr. Dale’s presentation took place on June 26 at Ropes & Gray’s New York office and was broadcast live to the firm’s other U.S. offices.

The event explored Dale’s tumultuous relationship with the BSA, from his early days as a scout to his lawsuit against the organization. He related how his experiences as a scout helped him establish leadership skills that he would later use to challenge the organization in court. He ascended the ranks of the scouting program, earning a nomination to join the Order of the Arrow as well as an Eagle Scout badge.

In 1990, the BSA expelled Mr. Dale from his position as a scout leader after learning about his sexual orientation from a newspaper interview in which Mr. Dale stated he was gay. The organization claimed that Mr. Dale had violated the BSA’s standards for leadership, which “specifically forbid membership to homosexuals.” Feeling “a profound sense of betrayal,” Mr. Dale sued the BSA in the New Jersey Superior Court, claiming that the organization had violated a state statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.

The Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the BSA. The case was appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, and then to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, both of which sided with Mr. Dale. Finally, the case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the BSA. Mr. Dale emphasized that even though the case was lost, the press brought intense public scrutiny to the BSA, which eventually reversed its policy against gay leaders, and activated a national conversation about LGBTQ inclusion.