For boys only
The Boy Scouts of America's new proposal to allow gay boys to join up and take a seat around the campfire would have been full cause for celebration if the organization had also extended a welcoming hand to openly gay adult leaders. That would have been the fair and equitable thing to do, consistent with the BSA's compelling need to end 103 years of discrimination based on sexual identity.
In the end, though, the Boy Scouts, under mounting pressure from advocates on both sides of the issue, has offered up a compromise proposal that, while commendable in part for its fairness, is worthy of censure for perpetuating hurtful stereotypes and old prejudices. In short, it is a disappointing model of inconsistency where none should exist.
In continuing to bar openly gay adults, the BSA keeps alive the ignorant and wholly discredited notion that gay men are poor role models and prone to pedophilia. The proposal also sends the damaging message to gay Scouts that they are welcome as boys but will, because they are gay, be unwelcome as men.
Ending Scouting's exclusion of gay boys is a positive step for an organization that has been far too slow to adjust to societal shifts, and paid the price. Membership has steadily declined as Scouting has struggled to remain relevant in a world so dramatically changed from a time not long ago when a large majority of Americans viewed homosexuality as immoral and gays and lesbians as a threat to society.
The BSA, increasingly beset by legal challenges and the defection of members and corporate donors, has found its failure to bend with the times untenable, but remains reluctant to move to higher ground. Its new proposal supplants a less egregious one that would have permitted civic and religious groups to decide for themselves whether to welcome openly gay leaders and boys. Scouting's national council will consider the latest proposal this month.
The LDS Church, the organization's chief sponsor, signed off on the proposal last week, notwithstanding its own policy allowing openly gay men who are chaste to share equally in church assignments. Left to speculation is whether the BSA and/or the LDS Church view the proposal as a necessary bridge to full acceptance, allowing the attitudes of its membership to soften over time. What little evidence there is suggests that is the case.
What is clear, however, is that by keeping institutional homophobia enshrined in policy, the Boy Scouts of America will have justly earned its ever-shrinking space on the American landscape.