The current fervor over whether or not the Boy Scouts of America should accept homosexuals into its ranks misses a far more salient point: We're already there. In fact, scouting has provided such an impressive forum for young men to come to terms with their sexual identity that one is left to wonder whether the Scouts are in fact an agent of Sodom, promoting the homosexual agenda with greater fervor than a Broadway Cruise to South Beach. Viewed in this light, the organization's recent political posturing takes on an air of absurdity. The Scouts have served enough time as the quintessential corporate closet case; it's high time that the BSA started embracing its inner G-A-Y.
As a young New Yorker questioning his sexuality during the Reagan years, I turned to the Boy Scouts, Ed Koch and episodes of Magnum, P.I., to reaffirm my red-blooded masculinity. One would think that the Scouts were my best bet to be on the straight and narrow. But after securing merit badges in bird watching, gardening, pottery and theater -- to say nothing of the extracurricular fun we had earning the plumbing and leatherwork merit badges -- I came to realize that I was, well, screwed. It was as if I were living in my own private Yossi & Jagger prequel (but with regrettably fewer Israelis). I'm not blameless -- and I should have seen the signs earlier. With form-fitting military uniforms and requisite neckerchiefs, overnight camping trips in close quarters and the National Jamboree -- whose slogan is "Go Big, Get Wild!" -- my attempt at heterosexuality didn't stand a chance.
I grew up harboring no resentment toward the Scouts for pushing me to gay it forward. In fact, as a successful man who is completely at peace with his sexuality, I thought I might owe them a belated "thank you" for the assist. But when the BSA started aggressively espousing vitriol toward homosexuals, I felt jilted at the altar. First in 1991, borrowing a page from the Joseph McCarthy playbook, the Scouts proclaimed that "known or avowed homosexuals are not an appropriate role models of the Scout Oath and Law." In action after action since, from Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale (2000) to the Support Our Scouts Act (2005), the organization has systematically codified its discrimination. This denunciation rings as hollow as a Larry Craig airport press conference, and it is equally ineffectual. I never knew that the "honest and trustworthy" portions of the Boy Scout oath operated on a sliding scale.
The BSA cites the U.S. Constitution in defense of its admission policies, reminding critics that if we don't like the way they operate, we don't have to join. Many corporate sponsors, including Intel and UPS (but not yet Verizon... can you hear me now?) have taken them up on their offer and withdrawn support. And while it is true that a private organization can exclude whomever it wants, the Boy Scouts are as private as a public restroom -- and just as dirty. Our government allows the Scouts to operate under a congressional charter, our military provides automatic promotion to Eagle Scouts, and our president serves as the honorary president of the BSA. This does not meet any plausible threshold of the private distinction, and they know it. By emphasizing the B.S. in the BSA, the organization is now exceeded by only the Catholic Church in homophobia and hypocrisy.
I may have been with the Scouts once upon a time, but we are never, ever getting back together.
The Scouts have become a self-destructive shadow of their former self, a group whose preoccupation with exclusion belies the very principles that appealed to me as a youth. That the organization whose motto, "Be prepared," finds itself throwing a Hail Mary pass for continued relevance is as much an example of ironic masochism as one of futility. Game over, BSA. Shame on you for not first recognizing -- and then embracing -- your role as perpetuator of homosexual iconography. Then again, with an entree to the organization called Webelos (really, "weblows"?), maybe they are in on the joke after all.
An earlier version of this blog post appeared in Out Magazine.