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Deborah Plummer Headshot

Faulty Heuristics Govern BSA's Decision on Gays

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We are naturally tribal people and cling to those who share our blood and, by extension, those whom we deem to be most like us. Tribes have clear boundaries and are homogeneous. Historically, these characteristics were a formula for stability. However, in contemporary society, when tribes remain encapsulated, they are also particularly vulnerable to stereotyping, conscious and unconscious biases, faulty heuristics and fixed mental boxes. As a result, their decision-making process is flawed.

This is the case with the Boy Scouts of America's decision to allow gay youth to be members, but to continue banning gay men and lesbian women from being adult leaders. Since the May 23 decision was announced, I have been pondering a few of the faulty heuristics that led to such a decision:
  1. A person's sexual orientation -- heterosexual or gay/lesbian -- does not connote their values. To assume that being gay makes one immoral is ludicrous. To assume that being heterosexual makes one moral and upright is also ludicrous.
  2. Not having gay adult leaders is based on a premise that gay leaders are most likely predators, but a disproportionate number of child molesters are heterosexual. How will the BSA assure that Boy Scouts will not be exposed to the leader's heterosexual orientation?
  3. Many religious groups sponsor Boy Scout troops and object to the decision based on the "immoral" behavior of gays, believing it to be "sinful." But other "sinners" are allowed to be adult leaders, so why single out just gays? Are adult leaders only people who can "cast the first stone"?
  4. "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee. Assuming that "homosexual behavior" refers to sexual behavior, how does the BSA assure that heterosexual sexual behavior is compatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law?
  5. It is presumed that allowing gay adult leaders would prevent a morally enriching experience for Boy Scouts. Does that mean that whenever gay adults are in leadership positions, we are subject to an immoral experience?
  6. When a gay scout becomes 18, will he automatically become immoral despite all the years of living by the principles and oath of scouting?
  7. Banning gays from scouting has been a practice throughout the BSA's 103-year history and is aligned with its Christian and timeless values. People are distinct from their behaviors. How is discriminating against a group of people a Christian or timeless value?

Ultimately, the Boy Scouts of America is a private organization and has the right to define its own membership. However, they should be very careful about defining moral behavior as synonymous with a heterosexual orientation and banning gay adult leaders. One hundred years ago, it might have assured stability, but today it only promotes cultural encapsulation.