It was disappointing to learn that, after two years of reflection and review, the Boy Scouts of America decided to cling to a policy that illustrates intolerance by maintaining its ban on gays in scouting. In doing so, the organization has kept in place a dont ask, dont tell policy on sexual orientation, and is forcing some scouts to violate one of the Boy Scouts most treasured values honesty.
Sadly, Boy Scouts leaders condoned the dishonesty, saying in an announcement on Tuesday that it was affirming its policy of not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals. With the code words open and avowed homosexuals, scout leaders were saying clearly they wont ask if you wont tell.
Gay scouts are just as trustworthy
We all know why. Its because there are already gay Boy Scouts, and will be more. And those scouts have proven to be just as trustworthy, courteous, brave and of good character as their straight counterparts.
The ban hasnt kept gays out of the Boy Scouts. Its just kept those who are gay from saying they are.
Eric Jones, a 19-year-old from Missouri, is a case in point. He had participated in the Boy Scouts for nearly a decade, working his way up to Eagle Scout. On Sunday he was fired from his counselor job at a Boy Scout camp.
James Dale is another. Also an Eagle Scout, Dale was expelled from the Boy Scouts and his position as an assistant scoutmaster when the organization found out he was gay.
Dale filed a discrimination suit, and in 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts, saying it had the right to exclude a person from membership when the presence of that person affects in a significant way the groups ability to advocate public or private viewpoints. The high-court decision was a close vote, 5-4, and reversed a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that said the Scouts had illegally discriminated.
The Boy Scouts have been under pressure ever since and, prompted by a resolution calling for the end of the ban, the group launched its two-year review.
In reaffirming the ban on Tuesday, chief Scout executive Bob Mazzuca said: The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisors and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.
Thats a position most of us would embrace. But the Boy Scouts dont have to ban gays to achieve that objective. Discussions of sexual orientation are hardly the topic of scout meetings. The concern sounds unconvincing.
Girl Scouts are good model
The Boy Scouts need look no further than the Girl Scouts to see how they should have proceeded. The Girl Scouts of the USA admirably is inclusive, accepting all comers including gays and lesbians. It has said it respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.
The Girl Scouts also assert that the organization does not condone or permit sexual displays of any sort by its members during Girl Scout activities . These are private matters for girls and their families to address.
The Girl Scouts did get pushback from some parents and others who did not want the group to include gays and lesbians. American Heritage Girls was formed in protest. But its 10,000 members cannot match the Girl Scouts around 2.5 million youth members and 900,000 adults.
There are about 2.7 million Boy Scouts. Some say fear of hurting membership or sponsor support especially from religious groups was one key reason the group upheld the ban. If that stops the group from doing the right thing, shame on them.
But this is hardly the end of the matter, despite leaders assertions that they wont be revisiting the issue. At least two members of the Boy Scouts national executive board have said publicly they are against the policy Ernst & Young Chief Executive James S. Turley and AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson. Stephenson is set to become president of the board in two years. They could foster change from within the board.
And U.S. attitudes about gays and lesbians have been steadily shifting over the years to inclusiveness and support for their rights. Young people, especially, see such non-inclusiveness as the Boy Scouts ban as antiquated and wrong.
Admiral Mullen got it right
But the Boy Scouts would do well to remember something Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more than two years ago when the U.S. military finally broached dismantling its unwise Dont ask, dont tell policy for gays in the military. Said Mullen to a Congressional panel: No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.
As a private organization, the Boy Scouts have a right to choose their members. But Boy Scouts leaders are going against their own creed with this policy. Like the military, the Scouts are forcing kids to be dishonest. The organization should take a cue from the military, do the right thing and allow gays to openly be scouts and scout leaders. The group should do it sooner rather than later.