Monday, April 22, 2013

The Boy Scouts and The Gays

Last week, the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) issued a public statement about a proposed policy change regarding homosexual members.  Though the organization has excluded openly gay members for as long as it's been in existence, it faces increasing public pressure to change that policy.

After a long period of reflection, the committee is recommending that homosexual youths be permitted to join BSA and participate as active members, but is not recommending changes to the policy regarding adult leaders.

In 2000, the case Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court sided with BSA.  Since it is a private organization, they are free to set their own membership rules. The First Amendment's freedom of association protects that right, and the court narrowly held that the organization's opposition to homosexuality was protected as expressive language.

More recent legal challenges have come in regards to the organization's use of public lands.  The argument goes this way: if they are a private organization that actively discriminates and excludes people, then they cannot be permitted to use public lands, which are paid for by taxpayers.  One such case has gone on for well over a decade in San Diego.  The ACLU said last month that they are giving up the fight on this one after a federal appeals case ruled that the lease terms don't violate the law even though the organization discriminates. In that case, gays are included with atheists and agnostics, two other groups routinely excluded by BSA policies.  BSA leases a portion of Balboa Park (a very high rent area) for $1 a year. The tenuous argument BSA has relied on (and won with), is that they are paying for the land, so that's enough. $1 a year is hardly fair market rent, but the court sided with BSA.

This issue has been a contentious one for many years, and tends to be a very polarizing one. I've written about our personal experience with it before, as we are an active Scouting family and unabashed supporters of equality.

I feel like I'm a hypocrite.

This proposed policy change has given some people optimism that the organization is ready to evolve, but it has angered many others. Even if the change is adopted, sponsoring organizations would still have the option to decline membership to gay youths if they chose. Many churches who act as sponsoring organizations have said in the past that they oppose such changes.

As for my reaction, I'm trying to find the reasoning. I'm trying to rationalize this, because that's how my mind operates. I'm trying to make sense of what they are thinking here. It's not working.

I'm sure that in their minds, this is a enormous step. I'm sure they think that this is a huge concession and that allowing kids in but not adults is a sufficient compromise.

Then I think about the rationales for keeping the adults out. None of them are good. Many of them are based on incorrect assumptions about pedophilia. Some on the notion that gay leaders would force their sexuality on children. Others about how parents want their children protected and want to be able to dictate the sexuality of the leaders. I've seen people who say they don't want their kids being influenced by gay adults, as if it's somehow contagious or as if sex is something that any scout leader, regardless of their sexuality should be discussing with kids.

No leader, straight, gay or purple, should be talking about sex with a child. End of discussion.

You don't have to be straight to teach a boy to make a fire or row a canoe or shoot an arrow. The skills taught in scouting have nothing to do with sexuality.

This isn't a straight map.
Gay people can read it too.

Most of the adult leaders in my son's troop were members when they were children. If any of them were gay, those years of experience would mean nothing and they would be forbidden from passing on that knowledge.

I have no idea how many Eagle Scouts have returned their badges, but this site is some indication.  They are choosing to willfully exclude all these men, who've all achieved the highest rank in Scouting, from ever helping boys in the organization.

BSA is openly admitting that they intend to continue discriminating against homosexual adults. I wonder how gay youths would actually be treated in an environment that rejects them just by definition once they turn 18. I question whether the gay boys would actually be welcomed at all, or if this is just lip service by the organization.

I wonder what they intend to do when teenagers who have been active members for their entire childhoods approach adulthood and wish to help lead. Is it really a matter of total acceptance until the day someone turns 18, then the door will be shut in their face?

Do they honestly think that there is something about gay men becomes an unacceptable threat the day they reach adulthood? Do they honestly think that they can protect boys by limiting leadership when BSA has as sordid a history as they do when it comes to abuse?

It seems terribly arbitrary to me, and it sends a message not of tolerance and acceptance but of half-hearted, forced, temporary compromise.

Whether the policy change will be adopted or not remains to be seen. The issue is set to be voted on next month.

I honestly don't know what to make of it all. From where I stand, trying to make sense of it, this recommendation fails miserably. It is not one of openness and acceptance, it's limited by age. Now they want to discriminate based on sexuality and age. Adding another layer to discrimination doesn't make it okay. It doesn't speak to the gay youth of this country and inform them that they are truly welcome. It says that they can come in, but only for a little while.

That's not good enough.

Truly, I expected them to just stick to their guns here and refuse to change the policy at all. If they truly believed in the strength of their convictions, this would not be the end result. They would have held firm and refused to recommend change. Conversely, if they truly believed in acceptance, it would have been all inclusive.

This says to me, more than anything else, that the BSA is confused about it's identity.

Now, isn't that ironic?


  1. My husband is a bisexual atheist, and he is an Eagle Scout. That's all I have to say about

  2. I am guessing that the Boy Scouts think kids can't help "thinking" that they are gay and that by the time they are adults, they should have grown out of it already (made the "choice" to not be gay). Kind of like ADHD. You can be diagnosed as a kid, but as an adult you magically don't have it anymore. I am not trying to compare ADHD to being gay, it's just my background is in mental health and I see some parallels in the way people think about what they consider to be "other" people. I think it goes along with the same type of thinking that says kids aren't fully human. Once they reach adulthood they become human. That is when their so called choices actually matter. It doesn't make any sense.

    I might be wrong, but that is a trend I have observed. I find this policy change to be a little ridiculous, even if it is a possible step forward (which I'm not convinced it is). It's still crappy.

  3. Well-said, mama. I really wanted to get Lucas into the scouts, but I'd feel like a hypocrite, too. I know it's possible to strike a balance, but I don't think I could do it.

  4. I'm so grateful my kids don't have an interest in scouting. Because I have no love for this organization, but I would also, realizing that there isn't a viable alternative in my area, let them join. Both of them, my daughter and son, dance ballet. I like it much better.

  5. It is a monumental step in their minds. It's almost insulting in the mind of any sane person.

    I told The Mister I was glad we had girls so I didn't have to have this whole dilemma in my head. He was a Boy Scout and I know he would have advocated for his son(s) to be.


Some of My Most Popular Posts