Peg McEntee: Discrimination lives on in the Boy Scouts
So, you can be out and a Boy Scout. But when you turn 18, you're out for good.
The Boy Scouts of America is being heralded as a forward-thinking organization that, after much deliberation, decided to let openly gay boys join a troop, go to camp, earn merit badges and learn to love campfires and charred hot dogs.
But in excluding men 18 and older, it returns to open discrimination against gay men who are presumed guilty of something being a normal guy and sexually active and the BSA is perpetuating the assumption that no boy is safe when a gay man is around.
However, numerous studies have found that gay or bisexual men are no more likely than straight men to molest children.
According to research by University of California, Davis psychologists, "This is not to argue that homosexual or bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so."
That's social science. But when religious entities get involved, the perspective can be quite different.
It's no surprise that the Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God opposed the BSA's move, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eventually supported the change.
All three were instrumental in the passage of California's Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court with a ruling expected next month.
But Catholic and LDS leaders have taken a measured tone since the BSA announced its decision Thursday, and to their credit, both faiths had already reached out to the gay community. The LDS Church launched a website, http://www.mormonsandgays.org, that hews to its teachings but counsels love, understanding and acceptance of gay people.
The LDS Church contends that "sexual orientation has not previously been and is not now a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest," the church said in statement the day of the BSA vote. That means no sex, straight or gay.
Catholics, meantime, maintain that while gay people are to be treated with respect, those who "engage in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching." (I assume that also goes for the epidemic of child sexual abuse by priests.)
The Assemblies of God, however, condemned the BSA's vote.
"A majority of Scout groups are sponsored by churches or other religious entities, which have as their foundation a belief in biblical teachings that identify homosexual behavior as outside God's plan for sexuality," George O. Wood, the Pentacostal denomination's general superintendent, wrote in a piece on the Charisma News website. Moreoever, it foresees a "mass exodus" from the Boy Scout program that will include other like-minded churches.
As a former Girl Scout, I can say that would be a shame. Scouting is just flat-out fun, especially when you consider summer camps with teepees, as I enjoyed as a girl. And, no, I never got a vibe from any of our counselors that they were on the prowl for us.
As someone with a lot of gay friends and relatives, I can say none of them are sexually interested in kids.
The bottom line is, people who fear gay men really need to get to know some, have a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke and talk things through.
Religious conviction is one thing. Human contact is quite another.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.