“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty…”
If you can finish those sentences correctly, then you used to be a Boy Scout! On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
Ah, yes, to “keep myself morally straight.” Is that the basis for the policy of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to prohibit gay adults from serving as Scout leaders? Was that previously the rationale for banning gay Scouts themselves, a policy which was subsequently reversed? We all know that phrase does not really mean straight, as in heterosexual. Instead it means that any Boy Scout will hold himself to high moral standards, regardless of being gay or straight. Not such a bad aspiration for anyone, Boy Scout or not!
Effective January, 2014, young gay men may be enrolled as Boy Scouts, but gay Scout leaders are prohibited from serving in that capacity. Robert Gates, National President of the BSA, stated in May, 2014 that, while he personally was in favor of gay men serving as Scout leaders, he opposed further discussion on the policy in force. Now, however, he has stated that this policy can no longer be sustained, and has called for changing the policy in order to avoid multiple inevitable legal challenges. To support his call to end the ban on gay Scout leaders, he referenced the April 2015, announcement by the New York BSA chapter that had hired the nation’s first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader.
Across the country other broader developments in LGBT non-discrimination have been cited as further reason to change the BSA policy. States have begun to pass legislation that is specifically worded to add sexual orientation as a protected class for employment purposes. Gates sees his recommendation to permit gay Scout leaders as an inevitable change that the courts may impose, if the organization itself does not pre-empt the courts and change the policy themselves. While Gates does not plan to bring this change to a vote at the next national convention, he does lay the groundwork for the change to come soon.
Of course, there are many churches across the country that are turning their backs on the BSA, for even allowing gay Scouts. Those churches adamant about being anti-gay have created their own version of the BSA, called Trail Life USA. Its female counterpart is known as American Heritage Girls. Found in their Membership Standards is this statement: "The basis for the program’s ethical and moral standards is found in the Bible. In terms of sexual identification and behavior, we affirm that any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful before God and therefore inconsistent with the values and principles of the program. Within these limits, we grant membership to adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program."
The more I think about it, the more I appreciate that this program has been created as an alternative to the BSA. Let’s move the debate away from the BSA. Let’s allow openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders to fully participate in its programs. Those who are opposed are entitled to have their own version to suit their taste. This alternative program will never match the history, recognition, and broad participation that the BSA possesses. But it can be an outlet for those anti-gay churches and faith communities, to the point that they no longer rail against and protest the BSA.
I spent a few years of my life as a Boy Scout. The ultimate rank, of course, is Eagle Scout. I did not reach that rank, but did make it to First Class. I had a smattering of merit badges, Order of the Arrow, and generally had a good experience in my troop. Summer Scout camp was the best! I remember the satisfaction I had when I completed the mile swim. The sky-searching bonfires were amazing and mesmerizing at the same time. At no point during my years in the BSA did I ever feel as if any adult would take advantage of me in any way.
I would like to hear from you, the readers of this column, about your experiences in Scouting programs, if that is part of your history. If you spent time in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and are willing to share your memories with me, I would like to incorporate those into a follow-up article. Just send me a quick email, and I will reply with a few basic questions. All email exchanges are kept confidential, unless otherwise instructed.
Let’s get back to Robert Gates, the National President of the BSA. His stated reasons for wanting to change the policy to allow gay adults to serve as Scout leaders is self-serving. He wants to avoid lawsuits, and wishes to make this policy change before the courts force it upon him. Yet there could be one more reason that he is leading the BSA to full inclusion. Many charitable donations that the BSA had previously received have ground to a halt. There are many other organizations with their own class protections, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of the current policy of the BSA in excluding gay Scout leaders, it has been cut off from much charitable funding. Mr. Gates would more than likely desire to recoup those funds. Is the end greater than the means with the BSA? That is a question for another day. Let’s see the change take place first. Let’s hope Scout troops across the country do not suffer alienation or decertification if they hire a gay Scout leader. Let’s move on with it, after all!
Credits for some of the information used in this article go to Associated Press journalists David Crary and Jennifer Peltz from an article published at huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/21/boy-scouts-robert-gates-gay-ban-_n_7372990.html.