Usually compromise in the realm of politics means the ball is moving forward. President Clinton's strategy of triangulation was the epitome of it. Most people who work on LGBT issues also have to live with solutions that are far from ideal. They often embrace a philosophy of "half a loaf is better than none, and we will get the other half later." Frequently they're right. Sometimes they're wrong. As a trans person, I tend to cast a rather jaundiced eye on opportunities for that philosophy to fail.
For example, when I was meeting with a group of LGBT activists in Ohio, the question of why a push for an employment nondiscrimination bill should come before a push for marriage equality was raised. "Employment equality is easier to convince people of than marriage equality and has come first in every state with marriage equality," noted one (cisgender) woman.
I couldn't hold back at that point.
"No, not really," I replied. "New York passed marriage equality last year, and they have failed to deliver on workplace protections based on gender identity for over 10 years now. The workplace protections they passed back in 2003 didn't include trans people."
This sense of history tinged with cynicism makes me see the Boy Scouts of America's admission of gay scouts under the age of 18 as something that will to set the fight for equality back a very long time and do a lot of damage in the interim.
Last month, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially endorsed the BSA's new "young gays OK, grown-up gays bad" position, I pricked up my ears. First, given the influence of the LDS Church on the BSA, I became convinced that this new policy would pass. However, I asked myself, "What does this organization have to gain from it?"
Simply put: everything. Scouting is the official youth activity of boys in the LDS Church, so the BSA and the LDS Church are intimately connected. Meanwhile, the BSA had been hemorrhaging corporate sponsors because of its previous ban on both gay adult leaders and gay scouts. Appearing to make concessions, without really changing anything, has been a big part of the LDS Church's post-Proposition 8 marketing campaign. (Literally. They hired two big-name firms to give their image a facelift.) If this latest "concession" slows down, or stops, corporations from pulling their support, it will allow the BSA to delay allowing adults who are LGBT into the organization for a long time.
In the meantime, this delay will allow the LDS Church to continue pushing the message that the only good kind of gay is deeply closeted or "cured." The church has not backed off on their stance that reparative therapy is often appropriate, but they claim that they will not mandate it. However, my recent experiences show that local Mormon leaders are still heavily leaning on church members to put their gay children into such programs.
Imagine that you are a gay Mormon kid in the Boy Scouts. While in the organization, you are subjected to a reminder at every meeting that you are a second-class citizen the day you hit 18 -- unless you're not gay anymore. Your ability to function as a part of the church community essentially ceases when you come of age -- except if you suddenly find yourself liking girls. You will never have a family of your own, the most sacred part of being Mormon -- unless you stop being gay. You are someone to be pitied, like a profoundly mentally delayed child -- unless you find a way not to be gay.
If you kick a kid out of the Boy Scouts for being gay, he won't be around anymore to absorb these messages. But if you keep him in the organization, you get to make sure that you hit these points several times a week for years. Are the probable reasons for the new "concession" becoming clearer now? In endorsing this new policy and seeing it approved, the LDS Church got exactly what it likely wanted. They probably think that their odds of "fixing" gay kids just got better.
I doubt this was ever a concession to begin with, yet many of us are falling for it hook, line and sinker.
The LDS Church has long denounced marriage as a cure for being gay. At the same time, the church is telling people that they can change their sexual orientation, and Mormon bloggers tout the supposed beauty of "mixed-orientation marriage." The results of this line of thinking are easy to follow:
- Gay Mormon kid in the Boy Scouts "learns" that his life is next to meaningless unless he somehow "stops" being gay.
- He "learns" that he can "stop" being gay if just wants it enough.
- He "learns" that if he "stops" being gay, he can have a family and a ticket into the highest level of the afterlife.
- Boy marries girl, has kids and hopes that that will help make his feelings go away.
- Boy finds out that it doesn't.
- Boy comes out of the closet.
- Wife and family are shattered, leaving a trail of new victims beyond just the poor, scared kid who absorbed all the wrong messages.
This won't just affect Mormon kids. The LDS Church sponsors more Boy Scout troops than any other religious denomination in the U.S. -- nearly 34 percent of them, in fact. In the West, it's 50 percent. Among troops of older kids, who are more likely to be dealing with their sexual orientation, it is suspected that these numbers may be even higher, given the higher rate at which the LDS Church sponsors units that generate Eagle Scouts. What this means is that if you want to become an Eagle Scout in the West, there is a strong chance that you will have to do it through a troop sponsored by the LDS Church.
The BSA decision yesterday may mean that corporate sponsors will keep giving. If this happens, more innocent spouses and kids down the road will end up with shattered homes. Every day that money flows in means more innocent people hurt later.
It is a hurt that I am all too familiar with. My father tried to raise me in the LDS Church. I thought that getting married would "fix" being trans. It didn't. I didn't come out until after we had kids. And now I will have to live with all the indescribable pain I have caused my spouse and children for the rest of my life. It is an agony that I would never wish on another person.
This wasn't a win. Quite the opposite. I think the other side got exactly what they wanted. The question is how long it will take for the LGBT community to figure it out.