So one of the nation’s largest and most respected youth organizations has decided that it will continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians. That decision leaves me with just one thing to say: Too bad for the Boy Scouts.
While much of the country has finally figured out that rank discrimination against homosexuals is bad for everybody, the Scouts remain hobbled by an antediluvian policy. The Supreme Court, though, has ruled that the organization has the right to be wrong. So be it.
For years now, gay advocacy organizations and civil rights groups have pressured the Boy Scouts of America to reconsider a longstanding rule that excludes openly gay or lesbian adults from roles as leaders, as well as prohibiting openly gay boys as members. But rights are only one facet of the Scouts’ wrongheaded policy.
Opportunity — opportunity for the boys who look to scouting for leadership — is another facet. The Scouts have elected to continue excluding a untold numbers of men and women — surgeons, lawyers, coaches, soldiers, athletes — who might have volunteered their time, their skills, their energy and enthusiasm. There are openly gay men and women serving in the clergy, in the armed forces and in a host of political offices. There are gay men and women at the helm of profitable businesses. The Boy Scouts have banned all of them.
These days, most responsible adults are busy juggling duties as parents, breadwinners and, often enough, caregivers to elderly kin. That the Boy Scouts believe they have enough capable volunteers at hand to exclude some is, well, harebrained.
The organization has also passed up the chance to help vulnerable boys at a stage in their development when they most need acceptance, guidance and nurturing. Teenage boys who may be coming to terms with their homosexuality need open-minded adult mentors.
With all the worry over bullying of gay teens, you’d think the Boy Scouts would want to play a leading role in developing respect for differences in sexual orientation.
The Scouts’ reticence may be the result of old-fashioned prejudices, hoary notions that have been cast aside by the more progressive leadership of the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs and 4-H Clubs, which do not discriminate. But it is also quite possible that the Boy Scouts’ executive team is confused about the difference between gay adults and sexual predators.
With the promise to protect the boys in their charge, Boy Scout leaders are undoubtedly on the lookout for pedophiles. But it’s rare to find them hiding among adults who are openly gay. It’s much more likely that the predators who seek out children are married heterosexuals. (See Jerry Sandusky.) Or priests.
The Boy Scouts may also be laboring under the misguided notion that homosexuality is a choice from which its charges must be protected. If heterosexuals are not exposed to gays, they won’t “catch” the behavior — or so that thinking goes. Or course, science has rejected that view.
The Boy Scouts’ well-known code says that a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. All are admirable attributes; none recognize boundaries of color, class or sexual orientation. There are plenty of heterosexuals who do not hold to those values and plenty of homosexuals who do.
Sooner or later, of course, the Boy Scouts of America will figure this out and join the 21st century. If the military learned not to exclude some of its best and brightest and bravest — some of its Arabic speakers and snipers and special forces operatives — the Scouts will learn, too, in time.
By then, however, the organization will be struggling to dust off its reputation as a backward-looking institution that embraced discrimination for far too long. Such reputations can be hard to rehabilitate.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)