After 102 years the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is reconsidering its policy banning gay scouts and scout leaders from the organization. Deron Smith, a spokesman for the BSA, said, "While we'll carefully consider this resolution, there are no plans to change this policy. We do not believe that the issue of same-sex attraction should be discussed in our youth program. That right belongs to families." Smith added, "We are not making a social commentary."
The BSA's recent decision came after a group of Eagle Scouts banded together to form Scouts for Equality, a group whose mission is to challenge this century-old policy. The group's co-founder is Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout from Iowa with lesbian parents. He delivered a petition with 275,000 signatures that called for an end to the anti-gay policy and for the reinstatement of Jennifer Tyrrell as a den mother after she was ousted in April 2012 because she is gay.
"The BSA needs to get with the times," said Herndon Graddick, President of GLAAD. "It's time for the Boy Scouts of America to stop teaching discrimination and join organizations like the 4H Club, Boys and Girls Club, and the Girl Scouts of the USA in accepting all Americans."
The unjust nature of the BSA's stance goes back as far as 1998, when it announced that it would fire any trooper leader who came out as gay. The BSA claims its purpose is to protect young boys from any pederasts who may be drawn to them. In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled in a narrow decision (5 to 4) that the BSA had a right to exclude gay leaders because opposing homosexuality is part of the group's "expressive message." Then, in 2002, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau indicted 42-year-old Jerrold Schwartz, a now ex-scoutmaster, for repeatedly sodomizing a young teenager in his group over a three-year period during the mid-'90s.
The real issue is that like other male-dominated organizations, including the Catholic Church and, most recently, Penn State, the BSA has a notorious reputation for harboring child molesters. In his book Scout's Honor, author Patrick Boyle chronicles the history of sexual abuse within the BSA by child molesters who became scoutmasters to gain access to boys. Although the BSA hasn't officially acknowledged this problem, in the current Boy Scout Manual there is a section warning scouts about sexual predators. But the BSA still maintains "confidential files" containing information regarding pedophiles within their organization and refuses to release their identities to the authorities.
From the ages of 11 to 13, I was molested by my scoutmaster, William Fox, who also happened to be a police officer. When I told my parents, they confronted the leadership of Troop 85 and were convinced by the assistant scoutmasters not to press charges. In exchange, my scoutmaster was made to step down. In 1983 he went on to adopt a suicidal teen and wrote a memoir, The Cop and the Kid. In 2008 I accidentally discovered this book and learned that over the past 25 years, he adopted a total of 15 boys, most of whom are mentally challenged.
As a young gay boy in 1978, I was teased by the other scouts, and during a ritual called "The Order of the Flies," I was branded "Fairy Fly" and made to grovel on my hands and knees through the forest after dark while senior scouts taunted and flashed lights in my eyes. If the BSA had openly accepted gays in their organization, I might have been protected from these homophobic bullies. Certainly, the BSA was no different from my Catholic school or sports teams, where anyone who seemed different was branded "gay," and any adult who was suspected of being gay was a "pedophile."
It is time for the BSA to adopt a contemporary view of gay people. Gay people love members of the same sex. To equate them with child molesters is scientifically and culturally inaccurate. For the BSA to refuse to take a stand against anti-gay bullying of scouts and instead insinuate that banning gay people from serving as leaders will protect boys from being molested is ridiculous. The BSA needs to focus on keeping children safe and growing tomorrow's leaders, not teaching discrimination by denying a mom the same opportunities to tie knots, earn merit badges, and participate in her son's life. That's what scouting is about.