Today was a sort-of victory for LGBT youth: the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on LGBT scouts today, after gathering over a million signatures to allow homosexual scouts to join. From The Huffington Post:
The Boy Scouts of America have reportedly voted 61-38 to allow gay Scouts.
According to multiple media sources, the scouting organization has chosen to eliminate sexual orientation as youth membership criterion. Under the new ruling, gay Scout leaders are still prohibited from serving.
I say it's a "sort of" victory because I'm conflicted in my response to this new ruling. Obviously, this is huge progress for the group and great news for LGBT youth hoping to join the Boy Scouts -- this outdated and discriminatory requirement is no longer a problem, truly a "better late than never" decision. Also a victory? The decision inspired the close minded, "morally straight" scouts and scout leaders in the On My Honor network to quit the Boy Scouts of America, and convene in Kentucky to consider "the creation of a new character development organization for boys."
While these victories are hard-earned and fantastic to hear, the Boy Scouts of America still aren't allowing for LGBT den leaders, and do not allow for older LGBT scouts to be included in programs like Venture, a co-ed program for scouts that outgrow the traditional troops. This ruling is the Boy Scouts saying "It's okay to be gay, unless you're an adult."
This sort of restriction bars young scouts from experiencing part of the real world, stops scouts from meeting people with different viewpoints and lifestyles of their own, and keeps scouts from learning that being LGBT is not a big deal. To me, it implies that being gay is okay until you're 18 -- an adult -- as if being LGBT is something childish that scouts will outgrow.
Even more, by barring LGBT adults from participating in scouting, the Boy Scouts of America are allowing LGBT youth but giving them no LGBT role models to look up to. How wonderful would it be for a scout who is LGBT to have a successful and strong den leader who is just like them? To see that being LGBT is okay, and that they can be strong, independent and successful? And how great would it be for young straight boys to have an LGBT den leader to show them that being homosexual isn't a bad thing, and that LGBT people are just like everyone else?
And how is it even an argument, that LGBT leaders and scout members are such a detriment to the organization, such harm to other straight members of the troop, when the Girl Scouts of America have long since proven this wrong?
When the Boy Scouts were excluding LGBT youth and leaders, the Girl Scouts were admitting everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or religion. From TIME Magazine:
In their statement of purpose called "What we stand for," the Girl Scouts explicitly reject discrimination of any kind and consider sexual orientation, "a private matter for girls and their families to address." Noting their affirmation of freedom of religion, a founding principle of American life, the Girl Scouts "do not attempt to dictate the form or style of a member's worship" and urge "flexibility" in reciting the Girl Scout Promise. (They are encouraged to substitute the word "God" for something that's more in line with their own spiritual practice.) It's an arresting contrast to the Boy Scouts of America, who in addition to excluding gays also refuse to hire non-believers.
The religion factor in the Boy Scouts' organization has a lot to do with its sponsorship: about 70 percent of sponsorship funding for the Boy Scouts of America comes from religiously affiliated groups (about half of those groups are Mormon), with the other 30 percent coming from corporations. The Girl Scouts are funded by corporate backers like Coca-Cola and MetLife.
Aside from religion, I believe the diversity and acceptance of the Girl Scouts of America has to do with its founding: the Girl Scouts of America were formed in 1912 to teach "girls -- all girls" to be independent, to make their own decisions, to "help people at all times," to dream big, to be as ambitious as the boys, and to forge a path for themselves in their professional and personal lives. The Girl Scouts were formed because young women were being excluded from the boys' club -- so to exclude girls would be hypocritical and counter to its purpose. Two great examples of this inclusion have been the integration of African American Girl Scouts as early as the 1950s, and the recent inclusion of transgender Girl Scout Bobby Montoya showed.
While the Girl Scouts encouraged girls to think critically and to consider others' ideas, the Boy Scouts encouraged boys to think as a team and subscribe to traditionally masculine "duties," an idea growing more outdated as men and women in America grow into less traditional gender roles -- a doctrine which makes it more difficult to fully integrate everyone, including LGBT scouts and non-religious scouts, and provide scouts a more accurate picture of the world outside the den.
I think that the inclusion of LGBT scouts in the Boy Scouts of America is a belated, but fantastic step forward. And I do believe that eventually, the Boy Scouts of America will have to include LGBT den leaders. But I think we need to stress to people that both of these additions are good things, that they are signs of a changing and more inclusive nation, and that they will show today's young men that being gay is okay, and will grow more accepting leaders of tomorrow. Just like the Girl Scouts have been doing all this time.