Many may view the Boy Scouts of America's executive council's recently announced compromise resolution as an elegant solution to the present controversy over the exclusion of openly gay scouts and adult leaders. However, the reaction from both sides of the issue suggests that this recommended change, allowing openly gay members but keeping a ban on gay adult leaders, was likely doomed for failure the moment it was announced.
The prospect of allowing openly gay scouts is being attacked by the same conservative organizations that have long led the fight against lifting the BSA's equivalent of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, including the Family Research Council and churches like the Southern Baptists. They and their conservative allies will continue to press local scouting councils, many sponsored by churches, to reject this compromise. These groups maintain that being gay is a moral failure and therefore disqualifies a gay scout from membership in the BSA. They will support the outright exclusion of openly gay adult leaders for the same reason, and because they believe that all gays are in fact sexual predators who cannot control their supposed sexual attraction to young men.
At the same time, those fighting for equality contend that this halfway measure does not go far enough. They point out that under this compromise, an openly gay child could be a boy scout, but once he became an 18-year-old Eagle Scout, he would be disqualified from ever being a scout leader. It is logically inconsistent that a gay boy is acceptable for membership but a gay man is not. This discrimination would send a clear message not only to scouts but to all young people that gay men are at best immoral, and at worst pedophiles who cannot be trusted as scout leaders.
Recent returns from a survey sent to about 1 million members of the scouting community revealed that 61 percent of the 200,000 respondents support the present exclusionary policy (compared with 34 percent opposed). The same survey showed that a majority of scouts, adult leaders and parents do not believe that a scout should be denied the Eagle Scout award merely because of his sexual orientation. Most significantly, a majority of younger parents and teenage scouts oppose the present "don't ask, don't tell" policy because it does not represent the core values of scouting.
In the summary of this survey, the major argument made by opponents of openly gay scouts and adult leaders is debunked: "The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children."
During the week of May 20, this resolution will be put to a vote among the 1,400 members of the BSA's national council. There is no guarantee that they will approve this compromise. Given the results of the survey and the dissatisfaction with this compromise expressed by both the proponents and the opponents of equality, it would seem logical that the resolution will fail. And if it does, who will suffer the consequences of this continued discrimination?
Financial support by major corporations and government entities will continue to dwindle. Pressure to revoke both state and federal tax exemption will increase. The trend of public entities withdrawing preferential treatment for the BSA in use of government-owned property might accelerate. With support for the ban decreasing among parents from 57 percent three years ago to 48 percent today, declining membership will likely remain unabated as the generational differences become more pronounced.
While the organizational impact of the continuation of this outdated policy is troubling enough, it is the consequences to individual scouts that are most concerning. Many of us who are Eagle Scouts understand how important the values we learned in the Boy Scouts were in our development as productive and successful citizens. We want all boys to have this same opportunity. We challenge the national council to answer this simple question: Does discrimination in any form have a place in the 21st-century Boy Scouts of America?
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