Welcome to the 21st century, Boy Scouts. We’ve been waiting for you.
On Thursday, Robert M. Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America (as well as a former director of the C.I.A. and secretary of defense) announced the group might finally put an end to their longstanding ban on gay adult leaders. According to The New York Times, Gates warned Scout executives that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” and that “any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”
The Scouts were in the midst of their annual national meeting in Georgia when Gates made the statements, although he stopped short of making a formal proposal, instead suggesting it should be put on the agenda at a future meeting. The ban opposing openly gay adults from leading troops has been rumored to be on the chopping blocks for a few of years, with the organization grappling with the decision for even longer. Two years ago, the group decided to lift the ban on gay members, although the loosening of the rules didn’t apply to leaders.
At the time, a study revealed 75 percent of Boy Scout families were opposed to its discriminatory membership policies as it applied to kids.
While doing away with the ban on gay leaders is a long time coming, it still doesn’t put the BSA where it needs to be. The Times said the majority of local Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations, and as such, the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches, for example, “should remain free to set their own policies for leaders” in their chapters, according to Gates.
Should the ban on gay adult leaders be lifted but some local groups defy it, the national leadership “would take no action” against them, because “in the name of religious freedom, the Scouts should allow local sponsoring organizations ‘to determine the standards for their Scout leaders.'”
So while it’s a long-overdue gesture, the reality is that local chapters will be able to continue the ban with no consequences, while the national leadership will be able to claim the group generally doesn’t discriminate. The move to ban gay leaders at all seems antithetical to the BSA mission statement touting how being a Boy Scout “builds character [and] trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship.” That may be true, just so long as they still can’t be trained (everywhere) by gay citizens.
Speaking to the hypocrisy, one commenter on the Times site wrote:
I’m a straight, former Eagle Scout and Scout Leader who sent my Eagle badge back to Scout Headquarters years ago in protest over this issue. You are pointing in the right direction, Mr. Gates, but you’re not going far enough. Let’s get over the half-in/half-out approach (reminiscent of the don’t ask / don’t tell policy formerly in place in the military) and build an organization — with both gay scouts and gay leaders — that can stand behind the basic principles of equality and fairness the Scouts purport to espouse. Why should personal, highly variable religious doctrine determine the policies of the Boy Scouts? Isn’t that the tail wagging the dog? If a religious institution has trouble reconciling itself to basic principles of equality and fairness, then it doesn’t deserve a place at the same table with the Boy Scouts.
While Gates was correct in asserting the ban on gay leaders is not sustainable, it would have been even more correct — and better — had he put it out there that discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation is equally as untenable as forcing people to accepts tenets they feel are in opposition to their religious beliefs. Of course in this case, no one is accusing gay Scout leaders of trying to teach boys to be gay, although the argument could be made that not allowing gay Scout leaders is teaching boys about a religion to which they may not belong.More On