The New Normal's Justin Bartha on Why the Boy Scouts Got It Wrong

By Jase Peeples

Originally published on Advocate.com March 26 2013 8:05 PM ET

From businesses withdrawing donations to rock stars like Madonna and Carly Rae Jepsen publicly denouncing the Boy Scouts of America, the organization has come under heavy fire for continuing to uphold its ban on gay members.

Tonight’s episode of The New Normal will tackle the issue and its effect on LGBT families head on as David (Justin Bartha) must decide between wanting to share the positive experience he had as a scout with his and partner Bryan’s (Andrew Rannells) unborn son and supporting an organization that discriminates against families like his.

The Advocate talked with Bartha about how the controversial topic will be covered in tonight’s episode, his feelings on the BSA, and why his work on The New Normal is the proudest of his career.

The Advocate: How did you feel when you first learned The New Normal would be tackling the Boy Scouts’ gay ban?
Justin Bartha: I read the script and I was blown away by the writing first and foremost. I thought it was the strongest script so far and it seemed very personal because one of the show’s creators, Ali Adler, is going though this right now in her life, as she’s raising two young children and one of them would really like to be a part of the Boy Scouts, but doesn’t want to support an organization that does not support equality. So once I’d read it I immediately called her and thanked her for writing it and told her how amazing I thought it was. It was exciting because, although I think we’ve already done some amazing episodes, this script in particular felt like it was reason why I signed up to do the show. It seemed very topical, reverent, real, and funny.

Were you aware of the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay members before it became a hot-button issue?
I had no idea. It wasn’t something I think I ever thought about until stories started to get picked up by the press more frequently over the past couple of years. The organization has historically been highly regarded, so when it came to issues like [discrimination], the Boy Scouts weren’t exactly the first group that sprang to mind.

We you a Boy Scout at any time during your youth?
I was not, though I did go to camp for many years. However, I do have a gay brother who was in the Boy Scouts when he was young, as were a lot of my friends. Personally, I think it’s an amazing organization. I think the values it teaches are really important, and I don’t think all of that good is erased because of this one particular issue, but at the same time it’s hard to honor [an organization’s] values when they discriminate.

How do you think the Boy Scouts will react when and if they see tonight’s episode?
I think we handled the topic in a very responsible way. The series tries to not be preachy. Even though the central characters on the show are gay and liberal, we always show many different points of view and that’s been the goal from the get-go. Although David, the character I play, is going to have one point of view, there’s a dad [in the episode] who has another, and he’s not the villain of the show. He’s just a dad, and the viewer is meant to understand where he’s coming from. It’s not an easy conversation. None of these are, because you have to respect every point of view no matter what. That’s what we want to do on the show. We want to start conversations without shoving one point of view down anyone’s throat, but instead simply raise the issues and see how they affect the characters.

Some people have referred to shows like The New Normal as “gay propaganda.” How do feel when you hear statements like that?
We’re making a show that’s supposed to be entertainment, and we’re trying to make it more intelligent that the usual stuff that’s on TV, and that’s where it ends. Of course, we’d love for people to talk and promote as many conversations as possible. That includes people who make ridiculous statements like that, but you have a choice to watch it or not. Personally, when I hear people say things like the show is “gay propaganda” I find that to be homophobic and truly closed-minded, because there’s not ulterior motives behind these shows and that only serves to close off conversations, which is too bad.

As an actor, is the pressure greater working on a show like this that routinely takes on controversial topics?
I don’t feel social pressure, ever. The only pressure I feel is to make it good. As with anything I work on, no matter what it is, all I want to do is make it good. I want to make the character truthful. I want to make the story funny when it’s supposed to be funny and moving when it’s supposed to be moving and just be honest. Beyond that, I can’t take responsibility for anything else. Everyone has different tastes and different viewpoints. We’re just trying to do a good job. That’s why it’s so disappointing when people use these hyperbolic statements like “it’s gay propaganda” because that energy could be focused more effectively on other things.

Have your feelings about issues facing the LGBT community and their families been heightened since you began working on The New Normal?
Yes. They’ve heightened in the sense that I’ve seen members of the LGBT community be affected personally. Of course, I have a gay brother, but that’s a family member and there’s going to be love there no matter what. But when you have strangers telling you your show is positively affecting their lives, you can’t help but be moved by that and be proud of what you’re doing. As an actor, it’s very rare that I feel proud. I have my own misgivings about my profession and I usually don’t think I’m doing anything important, but one of the reasons I wanted to do this show was because it has a positive message. This show is the thing I’m most proud of in my career.

 

To find out how you can help GLAAD end the ban on gay leadership and troops in the Boy Scouts visit GLAAD.org.