Posted by: Howard Ross, Chief Learning Officer
This week the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 100-year anniversary. I was a Boy Scout, and before that a Cub Scout. In fact, my Mom was the “Den Mother” of our Cub Scout Den, and my father was whatever Father’s were back then (Pack Leaders or some such thing). In those days the sex roles were pretty clearly defined.
I loved my experience in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and have fond memories of camping trips, charitable events, field trips to places like
Unfortunately, some of the things that young people are learning from the Boy Scouts today are things that I would rather they forget, or not learn at all, and those are the persistent messages and practices of discrimination towards gays and atheists that have been propagated as part of the Boy Scouts official policy.
The Boy Scouts of America have, since 1991, officially prohibited openly gay people from taking either paid or volunteer leadership positions within their organization. Their original position statement read, “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts. A known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law." Two years later they updated the policy quite specifically: "We do not allow for the registration of avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders of the BSA.” And then, in 2004, after having their policy of bigotry upheld by four separate court cases, which they proudly post on their website under the title “Morally Straight."
Just in case there was any doubt, BSA issued a clarification of their policy in 2004, making sure that anybody who aspires to be a “youth leader” understands what they mean:
"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position."
I guess one could say that at least their stand on their own discriminatory policy is unambiguous.
The background belief that justifies this bigotry seems to be that there is some connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, even though it is now common knowledge that this link is imagined and that, in fact, an overwhelming percentage of pedophiles are heterosexual. But, as the old saying goes, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Especially a bigoted one.
The BSA is not the first group to create a chimera of danger about a non-dominant minority group. During the middle ages, Jews were accused of murdering Christian babies in ritual sacrifices and using their blood to make matzo; African American men were long vilified for their imagined coveting of white women. The “other” is often demonized as dangerous by those who would try to isolate and marginalize them.
There is a long tradition of this kind of hate mongering regarding sexual orientation. In 1977, when Anita Bryant began her campaign to repeal anti-gay discrimination policies across the country, she called her organization “Save Our Children” and even warned that “deviant-minded gay teachers could sexually molest children.”
The history is long, it is deep, and it is hateful and harmful.
Every day in the
By the way, there are alternatives to this approach. A Girl Scouts of
I am very aware of the arguments that many scouting families offer, in particular that they share a disgust for the discriminatory policies of the national Boy Scouts, but at the troop level they have a policy of ignoring the bigotry and operating inclusively. I celebrate that revolutionary spirit.
However, as the father of four sons, I have to say that I could never pay dues to an organization with similar operating principles as the Boy Scouts. The arguments of segregationists during the civil rights era of the 1960s are still too fresh in my mind. Some accomodationists argued in essence, “Why change federal laws when at the local level we don’t discriminate?”
To this kind of rationalization, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in his extraordinary “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” had a famous enjoinder, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
People might say, as the courts have held, that the BSA has every right to engage in this kind of blatant discrimination, that to legally suppress it violates the organization’s First Amendment right of freedom of association. But the bottom line is this: every day, through these actions by one of the most omnipresent organizations in American life, good people are told, quite blatantly, that there is something wrong with them. That they are not “Morally Straight.” Every day the presence of that hatred looms over young children within and without their organization, and of the adults around them.
That, is not “Morally Straight,” it is morally bankrupt.