This past week I received an email survey from the Boy Scouts of America about gays in the organization. I have been a scoutmaster for a total of about 15 years. Scouting is a wonderful way for our young men to build character, teamwork and inclusiveness. We teach them to be citizens of the community, nation and the world.
The Boy Scouts are considering whether to no longer require local chapters to exclude openly gay people, and to allow each individual chapter to decide whether to allow gay membership. This seems eminently reasonable. It would allow gay scouts and leaders to participate, and permit chapters in conservative religious organizations to follow their religious convictions. It doesn't totally satisfy the very conservative or liberal minded, but that is usually the mark of a good compromise.
As I see it, other than unwarranted homophobia, there are only two legitimate reasons for the Boy Scouts to exclude gay people from participation in Scouting. The first is religion. By allowing each unit the choice of policy, the proposal takes the religion question out of the equation.
For my LDS troop there would be absolutely no change in policy or the way my church or any other church runs its Scouting program. The second reason is the claim that gay people are more likely to be pedophiles. The science for the second claim doesn't hold up.
The academic literature shows that men in adult homosexual relationships almost never molest prepubescent and immediate pubescent boys. The people who do molest prepubescent boys are men who are fixated on children and have no successful adult relationships or heterosexual men who are attracted to the female aspects of prepubescense.
Had I taken this survey when I was first called as a scoutmaster in my early 20s, I would have answered the same as the 83 percent of the scout leaders in this area that support the ban. But my answers would have been based on fear and ignorance.
My mind has changed over the years because I have studied the science surrounding these issues and I have come to know many gay people at a personal level. I have come to realize that sexual orientation is simply not an issue. Personal contact has erased the fear, and study has erased the ignorance.
The Boy Scouts are in a quandary. The organization is currently losing membership and donations from people who do not want to be part of a homophobic and intolerant organization. Yet, in changing the policy, the Boy Scouts risk losing some of their conservative base. The biggest single portion of that conservative base is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I respectfully submit that every organization in every region has the right to follow its own conscience on this issue, that the proposed policy change would in no way effect the LDS Church or other conservative churches in the way they operate their Scouting programs. But it would open up Scouting to many communities that cannot or will not participate under the current policy.
The new policy will allow the Boy Scout organization to grow, seek donations and be seen as a group that encourages tolerance and respect.
Joel Bradford is an associate professor of environmental science and management and an adjunct professor of anthropology at Utah Valley University. He is also scoutmaster of Troop 1621 in Spanish Fork. The thoughts expressed in this column represent his personal views and not the views of his LDS ward, troop or chartering unit.