Thank you to my friend and LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. This week the Boy Scouts of American burrowed all the way back to the 1950s to embrace a false America and ignore the rights of an entire segment of the U.S. population. The organization, aptly founded in the waning of the Victorian Era, opted to maintain their restriction against LGBT Scouts and Scout leaders. The Scouts’ national spokesman, Deron (I’m afraid of the gays) Smith, told The Associated Press that an 11-member special committee, formed discreetly by top Scout leaders in 2010, came to the conclusion that the exclusion policy “is absolutely the best policy.” REALLY? Best for whom?
The decision was unanimous and was announced by the group’s media wing. It cited parent concerns and tradition as key factors in upholding bias.
The committee included a diversity of perspectives and opinions. The review included forthright and candid conversation and extensive research and evaluations – both from within Scouting and from outside the organization. The committee’s work and conclusion is that this policy reflects the beliefs and perspectives of the BSA’s members, thereby allowing Scouting to remain focused on its mission and the work it is doing to serve more youth.
I don’t think the Scouts know what most of those words mean. Diversity? Candid? Research? Service? If having a hate-the-gays tea with Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher fits those words, maybe. How else could they have come to such an odious conclusion a decade into the 21st Century? The review was shrouded in secrecy. None of the panelists were named publicly, the meetings were secret, and the process was never disclosed. The lack of transparency reinforces the image of a secretive group uninterested in the nation which it hypothetically serves. For a group that purports to create tomorrow’s leaders, hiding behind “beliefs and perspectives of … members” is cowardly at best. Exactly what type of leaders are they hoping to foster?
Some adult Scouts had put pressure on leadership. Eagle Scout and journalist Naka Nathaniel renounced his rank in a public statement last month. Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, the Iowa college student with two lesbian mothers who famously testified for marriage equality, collected tens of thousands of signatures in support of a policy change. He delivered them to the Scouts’ annual meeting to no avail.
Given the improvements for LGBT rights in the past decade, many were hopeful that the Scouts would recognize their error. Protections against sexual orientation discrimination have increased significantly. Marriage equality exists in six states and the District of Columbia; many more have civil union laws. President Obama’s recent support of marriage equality has helped shift the national conversation, and recent polls show all-time high support for gay rights across the country. While the Scouts re-endorsed discrimination, the Episcopal Church adopted a liturgy for same-sex unions and approved ordination of transgender priests. Overall support for transgender rights has increased, and the fully inclusive Girl Scouts accept lesbian and transgender members and leaders. Even the founding branch of the Boy Scouts, Britain’s Scout Association, refuses to discriminate on sexual orientation. The Scouts have turned a deaf ear and a bigoted blind eye to the conversation.
More importantly, the Boy Scouts have sent a dangerous message to America’s youth. By maintaining the ban they reinforce two horrific stereotypes: that gay kids are somehow of lesser value and that LGBT adults are somehow worse stewards of youth. Study upon study shows that the sexual orientation of an adult is not a factor in abuse of children — just ask Penn State or the Catholic Church. More significantly, in the wake of the worst year for LGBT-based bullying (and consequent suicides) on record, the Scouts have told bullies that they are justified and kids who differ from “acceptable” norms that they deserve what they get. The Scouting oath includes
To help other people at all times
It’s a shame the Boy Scouts of America have chosen to return to their Victorian roots rather than live up to their principles. Is there a merit badge for hypocrisy?