Op-ed: The Boy Scouts of America Should Ban Bigotry
When I was thrown out of Scouting back in the 1990s simply for being gay, I had to confront the worst imaginable hatred from an organization purporting its highest ideals to be "friendly, courteous, and kind." What sin had I committed? I spoke out against the Scout Executive for my council for using homophobic fear-mongering to solicit donations for the BSA. After informing him that I was gay, I received a letter from him stating that the BSA could not take a chance that gays would use their position of authority to take advantage of children. He didn't use the "p" word, but the implication was clear. Gays can't be trusted around children. I was an abomination. I felt humiliated, devastated, and completely alone.
Coming out of the closet in the 1990s was hard enough without having the BSA contribute to that suffering. I needed support. Instead, an organization in which I grew up, one that touted itself as "a friend to all," told me to get lost.
Fortunately, even back then there were voices out there challenging the BSA's version of "family values." Twelve-year-old, Steven Cozza, barely remembered today, made national attention with his heroic attempt through his Eagle project to get the BSA to change its bigoted policies. Yet for every Steven Cozza, there was also a Russell Henderson, the Eagle Scout, who helped pistol-whip Matthew Shepard to death.
But things are changing fast. These days, as boys and leaders get tossed out of the BSA left and right for being gay, instead of being forgotten or dismissed as an abomination, they are making headlines in a very sympathetic mainstream media.
The BSA has nevertheless stood firm on their right to kick out homosexuals for being morally polluted. It was only after one major corporation after another decided they don't want to do business with bigots that the BSA suddenly seems to have gotten it. UPS, Intel, Merck, United Way, all have all pulled funding for the BSA. The BSA has become the abomination. Forced by changing societal norms and most importantly money, the BSA will now decide in May what do with their national ban on gays.
The proposed resolution would allow gay youth to participate, but then toss them out as an abomination only after they turn 18. I guess for the BSA that's progress. But for a nation that is quickly moving forward on this issue, it seems petty and cruel. Most importantly, it undermines the very ideals for which Scouting claims to stand.
The BSA uses the "morally straight" clause of the Scout Oath as the basis for their proposed anti-gay leader policy. Under BSA logic, simply being a gay adult is immoral. One is not thrown out for perceived immoral actions; one is thrown out for being gay. You can be completely celibate, and still, the proposed policy classifies you as morally unfit. Why gay youth will now be classified as morally straight and not gay adults is a bit of a quandary. But one can't help but notice that it reveals the true motivation for the BSA's anti-gay policy all along - i.e, "The gay" = "child predator."
One may disagree with the BSA's view of "morally straight," but the BSA will always respond that it is there right to stick to traditional values. While this may be legally true, it is in fact false that the BSA teaches traditional morality. In fact, the BSA allows any religious denomination to join their ranks. The number is so vast that it's impossible to derive a common notion of "traditional morality" that the BSA allegedly teaches. Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, etc., all are welcome in Scouting. Imagine what a mess it would be if any one of those groups insisted that their version of traditional morality be followed by all Scouts.
Should the BSA, for example, ban vegetarian adults, to comply with the religious beliefs of Buddhist Scouts? Should the BSA deny adult leaders who are not kosher, so as not to offend Jewish Scouts? Catholics think masturbation is immoral. Any chance the BSA will ban kids who engage in that? I think it's fair to say that society has evolved on that issue.
The diversity of moral beliefs already within Scouting could certainly accommodate one more—namely, that gay adults are not an abomination. Society has learned this. Many religious denominations have learned this. The president of the United States has even evolved to include this view. Now we're just waiting on the Bigot Scouts of America to do the right thing and ban anti-gay discrimination completely. In the end, that's the only morally straight solution.
JAY JORDAN HAWKE is a former Eagle Scout and author of the gay teen novel, A Scout is Brave.