So it confuses me when the National Council of Boy Scouts flip-flops over the question of allowing gay scouts and leaders to join or remain in the organization. Though the organization had planned a vote on this very important issue last week, they ultimately decided to postpone the decision until May, meaning gays will continue to be barred from the organization. In defense of its refusal to accept gay leaders and scouts, the council cites the moral goodness of the Boy Scouts. They claim allowing gays into scouting would water down a great American tradition, making it sinister and depraved. According to them, admitting gay leaders and gay boys would make the “normal” scouts vulnerable. The leaders would revert to pedophilia, as casual racist/misogynist/homophobe Pat Robertson predicted. Gay scouts would sexualize an otherwise pure atmosphere. Or, more importantly, the financial backing of religious groups like the Church of Latter-day Saints, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Catholic Committee would melt away. And wouldn’t that just be the worst?
In 2000, in a case called Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) could exclude gays on the basis of a private organization’s right to freedom of association. According to the Court, the BSA can follow its own moral compass. At the time, the BSA’s views fit squarely with the majority of America’s views towards gays. But now the National Council of Boy Scouts finds itself in the middle of a cultural shift, with popular views about LGBT Americans changing. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and advances in marriage equality reflect the growing recognition that the government has little business telling Americans who they can and cannot love. With these winds blowing, the BSA lies listless in brackish waters, and its nostalgia for a bygone era shackles the organization to an Eisenhower-esque worldview. You can almost guess at the fever dreams of the group’s leaders, hoping to turn Scouts into Mad Men for eight year olds.
The Boy Scouts don’t need to be cast as some pitched battle between sexualities. When I first joined my Boy Scout troop, the extent of my sexual/anatomical knowledge was thinking women pooped babies out of their butts. The idea that a fifth-grade boy entering Boy Scouts should be able to determine his sexuality and exclude himself from the organization is, I would say, absurd.
Instead, Boy Scouts is a place for young men to adventure. It’s a chance to move beyond a comfort zone with close friends and trusted leaders. As a scout, I went white-water rafting, mountain biking, and deep-sea fishing. I’ve spent nights alone in the woods with nothing but a flashlight and a bottle of water, forced to find shelter, food, and warmth to prove my proficiency in survival skills. This is the purpose of Boy Scouts—focusing on a boy’s sexuality is not.
Outdated moral crusades have no place in the BSA. But people might protest that if a private organization wishes to hold firm to its own values, it’s entitled to do so. And I agree, so long as those views are fair. However, homophobia is not a legitimate opinion to hold. It’s a social ailment—the product of superstition and insularity. Homophobia is really the core of the BSA’s argument and the defending principle of its anxieties. Discrimination will be the guillotine to its Robespierre.
The National Council believes that by barring gay leaders and scouts from membership, the organization can continue to hold fast to its principles. This argument ignores the fact that every year fewer boys don the scouts uniform and fewer adults volunteer to lead troops. The BSA is a dying organization, limping towards irrelevance. Insisting on a policy of exclusion during a membership dearth seems like the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Rather than force honest leaders and scouts to flee from the ranks in a neo-Lavender Scare, the organization should embrace diversity as a boon to a currently homogenous organization.
In the basement of that white clapboard church I said aloud the Scout Law, time and time again repeating that, among others things, a scout is brave. The National Council should make the fair decision, whatever outcry it receives from its religious sponsors. If a scout is brave, his leaders should be as well.