Since 1911, boys who have joined the Boy Scouts of America have taken this vow: “On my honor, I promise to do my duty to God and my country; to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
On Friday, the youth organization acknowledged — sort of — that one’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to being morally straight.
The Boy Scouts of America has proposed ending the mandatory exclusion of gay Scouts while continuing to bar gay adults from serving as leaders.
Though any progress is welcome, this proposal represents a compromise that will ultimately prove unworkable. When the Scouts’ National Council meets next month, we hope that it will fall into step with the rest of society by approving a resolution that unconditionally welcomes the contributions of both gay Scouts and leaders.
WAFFLING ON THE ISSUE
The recent history of the Scouts’ policy on gays is an eventful one.
Last July, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its commitment to keeping gays out of Scouting, citing support from parents and the possibility that openly gay Scouts or leaders “would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
In a surprising reversal, the national organization in January floated the idea of allowing individual Scout troops to set their own membership policies on a local basis, but then it punted, putting off a decision until May.
Now the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America has proposed a partial about-face that likely will please few people.
Conservatives won’t be satisfied with any move to lift Scouting’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays. Gay rights groups, meanwhile, rightly believe that by allowing gay boys to be Scouts but kicking them out once they turn 18, the organization is still tacitly endorsing the idea that being gay is immoral.
AT ODDS WITH OTHER YOUTH GROUPS
Lifting the ban on gay boys in Scouting would match the anti-discriminatory policies adopted by other major youth organizations, such as Camp Fire USA, 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Girl Scouts of the USA.
These groups have realized that when they honor the increasing diversity of society, both the organization and young people benefit. “We’re proud of our inclusive approach because that is what has always made this organization strong,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez said.
But by continuing to exclude gay adult leaders, Boy Scouts of America is lending credence to ugly and long-discredited myths about gay adults.
Multiple court cases have alleged sexual abuse of Scouts by Scout leaders. Boy Scouts of America files dating from the 1960s to 1991 detail numerous instances in which Boy Scout officials never reported abuse claims and sometimes sought to protect the accused.
THE BEST WAY TO KEEP KIDS SAFE
The best way for a youth-oriented organization to protect children is to educate itself and develop a screening process that excludes predatory adults. That’s because sexual abuse is the act of a predator, not of a mentally healthy adult, straight or gay.
The Boy Scouts of America knows this. As part of a review of its policy on gays, the organization talked to experts in child sexual abuse prevention, who concluded: “The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children.”
The Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to lift the ban on gay members is a step forward that doesn’t go far enough. Its proposed changes unfairly shy away from full acceptance of both gay Scouts and leaders. Other institutions have fully opened their doors to gays; it’s time for Boy Scouts of America to do the same.