The good news is that the venerable Boy Scouts of America have finally taken a big step forward into the 21st century, by voting yesterday to welcome openly gay kids into the ranks. The bad news is that gay scout leaders are still verboten. On that crucial issue, bigotry still reigns.
But before we explore that persistent bigotry, let’s give the group a few props for making history, for recalibrating its mission to more closely mirror progressive American values.
The scouts have been around for 103 years, perpetually pledging to keep themselves “physically strony, mentally awake, and morally straight” – and “morally straight” has always been synonymous with sexually straight. But yesterday in Dallas, after more than a decade of internal struggle, the group’s 1400-member National Council finally acknowledged the reality of cultural pluralism, and voted (by a margin of 61 to 39 percent) to amend the rules. Henceforth, “no youth may be denied membership…on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
This move puts the Boy Scouts and its three million members in sync with the other top youth groups – notably, the Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs – that have already embraced membership equality. And the Boy Scouts are now in sync with mainstream national sentiment; according to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, 63 percent of Americans support the inclusion of gay scouts. The bigoted minority remains vocal – conservative Christian churches sponsor a lot of scout chapters, and those churches are now vowing to walk – but national scout officials seem fine with that. They figure that they’ll attract enough new kids in the more enlightened communities.
Plus, the organization could no longer afford to remain reactionary; it was getting a lot of heat from corporations – Intel, Merck, and UPS – who threatened to pull their donations. It was also getting heat from corporate leaders – guys from AT&T and Ernst & Young – who sat on the Boy Scouts board. (Ernst & Young’s CEO, last year: “An incusive environment is important throughout our society.”) But aside from the pressure, the Boy Scouts were also getting permission; the Mormon Church, a key sponsoring partner, recently said yes to gay membership.
So yesterday’s historic vote was great for kids like Ryan Andresen, a California boy who was denied an Eagle Award after he came out as gay. But it didn’t do a thing for all the scout leaders who have been ousted because they were gay – people like Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio woman who led her seven-year-old son’s Cubs den, until she was forcibly removed; or gay Kentucky dad Greg Bourke, who lost his gig as Scoutmaster of his son’s troop.
The scout leader issue was sidestepped yesterday, for political reasons. The group figured that half a loaf (scout membership equality) was as much as the voting members would be willing to swallow. That’s understandable. But by ignoring the aggrieved scout leaders, the group is abetting the big lie about adult gays – that, supposedly, they’re sexual predators bent on corrupting the morals of innocent straight kids. Social conservatives are big on that myth – hence this gem from the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer: “Homosexual pedophiles already seek to infiltrate scouting because it provides a target rich environment for their twisted desires.”
The Boy Scouts may have punted on the scout leader issue, but the group has no patience for the junk that Fischer and his allies are peddling. From an April statement: “(T)he BSA makes no connection between the sexual abuse or victimization of a child and homosexuality. The BSA takes strong exception to this assertion. Some of the nation’s leading experts reinforce this position.”
“Leading experts” indeed. In a recent “open letter to concerned parents,” dozens of leaders in the fields of psychology and sexual assault reiterated what all the scientific research since the 1970s (like this study) has long concluded: “Gay people are no more likely to abuse children, and pose no more of a threat to young people, than the general population…this is a settled issue among experts…Claims to the contrary stem from a place of general opposition to homosexuality, rather than from actual expertise on the topic.”
At some point, the Boy Scouts will revisit their policy and extend equality to scout leaders, leaving all bigotry behind. Fischer’s group, and the Family Research Council, will keep doing what they do best – fighting and losing. This story has only one ending, and it’s a happy one.
Happy Memorial Day weekend! I’m offline on Monday.
Those of you wishing to show respect for our soldiers should read Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light – the new, concluding volume of his Liberation Trilogy about the fighting and winning of World War II. I’m 500 pages into it. It’s magisterial.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1