Boy Scouts go half gay

There are compromises that actually resolve disputes, and there are compromises that exacerbate them. The Boy Scouts gay compromise is an example of the latter.

The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its longstanding policy of forbidding openly gay youths to participate in its activities, a step its chief executive called “compassionate, caring and kind.”

The decision, which came after years of resistance and wrenching internal debate, was widely seen as a milestone for the Boy Scouts, a symbol of traditional America. More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The top national leaders of the Boy Scouts, who pledge fealty to God and country, had urged the change in the face of vehement opposition from conservative parents and volunteers, some of whom said they would quit the organization. But the vote put the Scouts more in line with the swift rise in public acceptance of homosexuality, especially among younger parents who are essential to the future of an institution that has been losing members for decades.

The policy change, effective January 2014, is unlikely to bring peace to the Boy Scouts as they struggle to keep a foothold in a swirling cultural landscape, with renewed lobbying and debate already starting Thursday evening.

The Scouts did not consider the even more divisive question of whether to allow openly gay adults and leaders. This drew criticism from advocates for gay rights, who called the decision a breakthrough but vowed to continue pressing the Scouts to allow gay members of all ages.

Some conservative churches and parents said the Scouts were violating their oath to be “morally straight” and said they would drop out.

This AP story goes into the fallout from both sides.

Dismayed conservatives are already looking at alternative youth groups as they predict a mass exodus from the BSA. Gay-rights supporters vowed Friday to maintain pressure on the Scouts to end the still-in-place ban on gay adults serving as leaders.

“They’re not on our good list yet,” said Paul Guequierre of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group. He said the HRC, in its annual rankings of corporate policies on workplace fairness, would deduct points from companies that donate to the Boy Scouts until the ban on gay adults is lifted.

In California, gay-rights leaders said they would continue urging passage of a bill pending in the Legislature that would make the BSA ineligible for nonprofit tax breaks because of the remaining ban.


“Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, a senior Southern Baptist Conference official, told the SBC’s news agency, Baptist Press.

Land advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and consider affiliating instead with the Royal Ambassadors, an existing SBC youth program for boys that combines religious ministry with Scouting-style activities.

Baptist churches sponsor Scout units serving more than 100,000 of the BSA’s 2.6 million youth members.

The Assemblies of God, which oversees units serving more than 2,000 Scouts, said it could no longer support such units and suggested its own Royal Rangers youth group as a “positive alternative.”

John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he and his allies would convene a meeting next month in Louisville, Ky., to discuss creation of a “new character development organization for boys.”

“We grieve today, not because we are faced with leaving Scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us,” Stemberger said. “Its leadership has turned its back on 103 years of abiding by a mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.”

There is a template for forming a conservative alternative to a major national youth organization. American Heritage Girls was formed in 1995 as a Christian-oriented option to the Girl Scouts of the USA, and it now claims more than 20,000 members.

For the record, the Girl Scouts claim 3.2 million members, counting both girls (2.3 m.illion) and adult volunteers, so it’s hardly the case that this separatist group – which I for one had never heard of before now – has had a negative effect on them. I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for the Boy Scouts for the simple reason that if they had dealt with this in a forthright manner twenty years ago as the Girl Scouts did, they wouldn’t be in this situation today. The more they resisted the inevitable and the longer they took to get to this unsatisfying midpoint, the more tumultuous and divisive it all was. All that for a policy that still doesn’t resolve the real issue, too. I don’t know how long it will take them to revisit their revision and go the rest of the way, but my advice would be sooner rather than later. The biggest homophobes are likely to have turned tail and run by then, so it shouldn’t be as big a deal. They may as well get the full benefit of their decision.

If it is the case that all the homophobes leave the BSA and form their own organization where they’re free to continue wallowing in fear and ignorance, that will be unfortunate for them. We’ve seen repeatedly that the best antidote to homophobia is exposure to actual gay people, especially gay people with whom you have an established relationship. San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt showed how that happens in his well-timed book that explores among other things his recovery from homophobia. I find Affeldt’s description of homophobia as something he had rather than something he was to be instructive. It’s a lot easier to get rid of an affliction, or disease, or habit, than to change who you are. Maybe that’s a better way to view homophobia.

Of course, being regularly exposed to ordinary, everyday gay people is no guarantee that you will come to see them as ordinary, everyday people, full stop. I’m quite certain that Rick Perry knows plenty of gay people, but that hasn’t helped him to not be ignorant and intolerant. But just because exposure isn’t a panacea doesn’t mean that it isn’t optimal. The ultimate endgame in all this is not just for individuals like Jeremy Affeldt to realize that they’re wrong, but for religious institutions to realize it as well. Needless to day, that is a much longer term project. For now, even half-steps in the right direction help. Take the rest of that step sooner and not later, Boy Scouts. You’ll be better off if you do. BOR has more.

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