A failure of leadership at the Boy Scouts of America
Today, a young gay man growing up in a small town, in a deeply conservative home, can look out his window and see his country evolving. Just a few years ago, his military barred him from serving openly, a hate crime committed against him might have gone unpunished as such, and his Congress was debating whether or not to amend the Constitution to render him a second-class citizen. Today, America looks so much more like a country that embraces him, even if discrimination still prevails in his church, his schoolyard or around his dinner table.
But even as this incredible transformation takes place nationwide, one group we trust to teach America’s children well has stood firmly against giving this young gay man the hope of an inclusive future: the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America.
Recently, reports have emerged that the BSA may remove its long-standing ban on openly gay Scouts and instead allow local chartering organizations — churches, civic organizations, and the like — to institute bans of their own.
This is not a solution. If anything, it is a reaffirmation of the BSA leadership’s belief that it is OK to teach young boys to dislike and reject other young boys simply on the basis of who they are — a reaffirmation which allows the BSA leadership to escape blame for what is increasingly seen as a deeply immoral policy.
If this seems harsh, remember that in the year 2000, the BSA went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue that barring gay Scouts was absolutely central to their principles as an organization. In order to claim that the ban did not violate state nondiscrimination laws, they had to prove that keeping gay youth out was part of the organization’s core “expressive message” protected by the First Amendment. They succeeded, and the justices upheld their right to ban gay Scouts.
Now, the BSA is singing a different song. If this new policy is to be believed, accepting or rejecting gay Scouts is no longer a central part of the BSA’s identity. In fact, it’s apparently so unimportant that the national leadership is considering abdicating the question to local chartering organizations.
Unless the BSA was dishonest with the Supreme Court, then their views have clearly shifted over the past 12 years. If so, that is truly wonderful. Many Americans have undergone this same evolution on issues of equality, and we embrace this process as an essential and healthy part of the national debate around these issues.
But if the BSA’s views have changed, then they owe it to our nation’s youth to say so. Don’t pass the buck and watch passively while young people in progressive big cities are free to be Scouts while those in conservative small towns are turned away. Stop behaving as though the question of treating children equally is so unimportant as to be delegated to a local committee like the amending of bylaws. Do not treat so violently and cheaply the hopes of LGBT youth in this country. Do not destroy their dreams of a country that embraces them for who they are.
It’s time for the BSA leadership to show leadership. Instead of this unsustainable half-measure, embrace a true national policy of inclusion. Welcome gay Scouts because it’s part of our national moral character to be inclusive of all people, and because such welcome is true to the spirit of the Boy Scout’s mission to raise good boys into great men.
Until they lead, the BSA leadership is failing that young boy who gazes out at an evolving country. Until they lead, they are failing to teach our children well.
Bishop Gene Robinson serves on the religion and faith council at Human Rights Campaign is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Chad Griffin is president of the Human Rights Campaign.