Perhaps after years of digging in their heels amidst mounting P.R. problems, the Boy Scouts of America thought they could garner some favorable press with the announcement last week that gay members would no longer be barred from their ranks.
Late next month, the 1,400 members of Scouting’s National Council will vote on a motion put forward by the group’s leadership stating, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Some frenzied critics, noting that a sizeable chunk of Scouting groups are sponsored by Catholic and Mormon congregations, warned of a catastrophe awaiting the organization.
But whether or not a troop here or there loses its sponsor, it’s doubtful that a large number of Americans are troubled by the idea that gay kids will no longer be ostracized by the Scouts.
However, the larger issue regarding gays and the B.S.A. remains unresolved. And the message there may be more damaging to the psyches of gay youth than the policy being swept away.
Openly gay men will continue to be barred from leadership positions in the Scouts. The implication couldn’t be clearer or uglier. The B.S.A. is telling the parents of Scouts, “Your sons will be all right if there are gay fellow Scouts among them. But don’t worry, we’ll protect them from gay adults.”
And that is exactly what they are saying as well to every gay boy who wants to join the Scouts.
B.S.A. officials, in fact, are making little effort to hide that motivation. Deron Smith, the group’s spokesperson, said the question of the role of gays in the Scouts is “among the most complex and challenging issues facing the B.S.A. and society today.” Other Scouting officials around the country, however, pointed to surveys the B.S.A. has conducted showing widespread unease about opening up the leadership ranks to gay men, suggesting the decision to continue the current policy on that question was an easy one.
In explaining the “softened” position on gay youth joining the Scouts, the proposed May motion reads: “Youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life.”
What’s more disturbing is the lead-up to the motion’s restatement that the B.S.A. bars adult leaders “who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the B.S.A.” A critical role played by Scout leaders, the motion explains, is in “teaching young people to make better choices over their lifetimes.”
It’s all there in the motion that supposedly reflects progress in B.S.A. thinking on gays. The “better choice” for youth is heterosexuality.
The utter banality of the B.S.A.’s position, however, becomes crystal clear when considering the example of Lucien and Pascal Tessier of Maryland, brothers who are both Scouts and gay. Before the B.S.A. made its announcement last week, Lucien, 20, an Eagle Scout, was fighting to change Scouting’s policy after being told that Pascal, 16, his brother, would not be allowed to become an Eagle Scout if he said publicly that he, too, is gay.
“I’m thrilled that under the proposed resolution, after years of service and dedication to the Boy Scouts, my brother would be eligible to earn his Eagle award,” said Lucien, whose initial effort to reform Scouting involved a petition drive on Change.org. “But what I cannot understand is why the Boy Scouts of America believes that I’m not fit to lead my brother’s troop, even though I received the Boy Scouts’ highest honor just a few years ago. If a Scout has what it takes to earn his Eagle award, surely he has what it takes to serve as an adult leader.”
A longer version of this editorial first ran in Gay City News, The Villager’s sister paper.