Was it a major victory that the Boy Scouts of America voted to set an age limit on its discrimination or was it an outrageously offensive compromise?
If you learned about the vote by Facebook posts, tweets and statements from LGBT organizations, you were getting wildly mixed messages.
While everyone acknowledges the fight isn't over until gay adults can serve, one group praised the decision as a "major victory" (even though the scouts refused to even consider lifting the ban on gay people entirely). On Facebook, I saw many posts similar to this one: "Congratulations to the Boy Scouts for no longer discriminating against children; just discriminating against people 18+ is at least sort of a step in the right direction."
My reaction was quite different. In fact, I called it a cowardly, offensive and obviously calculated decision.
I don't quite know how to account for the vastly different perspectives; good, smart and passionate people and organizations--as committed to LGBT equality as I am--responded to the news very differently. Could it be that we, as a community, have suffered such oppression that we're sometimes willing to congratulate an historically discriminatory organization for any small crumbs of acceptance it throws our way... and to declare victory when that organization says it will put its discrimination on hold until we turn 18?!
Maybe some people responded so favorably to the news because they're simply overjoyed that gay youth, a demographic rarely acknowledged by society prior to the last decade, will finally be tolerated in an organization known for its firm and century-long opposition to homosexuality. For those who have been working tirelessly to change the Boy Scouts' membership policy, I can understand that instinct.
But I think about the 44 homeless LGBT youth, up to the age of 24, who sleep at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center every night; youth who have been abandoned by their families and who frequently feel alone, hopeless and worthless. And I'm angered by the message this vote sends to them, and to everyone else for that matter.
It's somehow OK to be gay when you're a boy, but when you're a young man--as young as 18--there's something so wrong, untrustworthy or deviant about you that you're expressly prohibited from any further involvement with the Boy Scouts program. Oh, and if you're an LGBT parent of an active scout, we don't trust you to volunteer either.
I do know that if the group in question hadn't been the Boy Scouts, but was a social club that had a 103-year history of discriminating against Jews... or African-Americans... no one would be celebrating that club's decision to continue discriminating against Jewish and African-American adults, just because Black and Jewish kids could now join.
So what's next for the Scouts? After having raised the "scary" specter of gay boys sharing tents with non-gay boys (as if this hasn't already been happening) in their widely touted survey, they've given themselves seven months to develop a plan to implement their new "inclusive" membership policy. Will it be a plan like the U.S. military's, after the end of "don't ask, don't tell," in which service members were disavowed of stereotypes regarding gay and lesbian people and taught that discriminating against their gay and lesbian colleagues is not only wrong but forbidden? I doubt it, especially considering some of the outrageously ignorant and discriminatory comments I've heard from scout leaders. Even worse, might they consider policies to segregate gay scouts from straight scouts?
What I do know is that, in this day and age, it is neither acceptable nor progress to allow gay boys to participate as scouts for a few years, only to harshly expel them from any involvement the moment they turn 18.
This is a calculated and craven strategy to win back the support of the many corporate sponsors that have stopped funding the BSA, costing the organization millions of dollars in lost revenue, because of its discriminatory policies. We can't allow them to successfully spin the message that they've ended their discrimination. Every person and company that believes in our full equality should reject this half-hearted measure and continue to withhold support from the BSA until it fully ends its discriminatory policies.