Today, a young gay man growing up in a small town, in a deeply conservative home, can look out his window and see his country evolving. Just a few years ago, his military barred him from serving openly, a hate crime committed against him would have gone unpunished as such, and his Congress was debating whether or not to amend the Constitution to render him second class. Today, America looks so much more like a country that embraces him, even if discrimination still prevails in his church, his schoolyard or around his dinner table.
But even as this incredible transformation takes place nationwide, one group we trust to teach America’s children still remain firmly against giving this young gay man the hope of an inclusive future: the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America.
The BSA announced this week that it will delay lifting its long-running ban on openly gay scouts . It was expected to announce a policy that instead would allow local chartering organizations—churches, civic organizations, and the like—to institute bans of their own.
Some have celebrated this decentralized approach as progress. It is not. If anything, it is a reaffirmation of the BSA leadership’s belief that it is okay to teach young boys to dislike and reject others simply on the basis of who they are—a reaffirmation that allows the BSA leadership to escape blame. It would be a deeply immoral policy.
If this seems harsh, remember that in the year 2000, the BSA went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that barring gay Scouts was absolutely central to their principles as an organization. In order to claim that the ban was permissible on First Amendment grounds, they had to prove that keeping gay youth out was part of the organization’s core “expressive message.” They succeeded, and the justices upheld the ban.
Now, the BSA seems to be singing a different song. If the proposed policy is to be believed, accepting or rejecting gay scouts is no longer a central part of the BSA’s identity. In fact, it’s apparently so unimportant that the national leadership is considering abdicating the question to local chartering organizations.
Unless the BSA was dishonest with the Supreme Court, then their views have shifted over the past twelve years. If so, that is truly wonderful. Many Americans have undergone this same evolution on issues of equality, and we embrace this process as an essential and healthy part of the national debate around these issues.
But if the BSA’s views on homosexuality have changed, then they owe it to our nation’s youth to say so. Don’t pass the buck. And don’t behave as though the question of treating children equally is so unimportant as to be delegated to a local committee like the amending of bylaws. Do not treat so violently and cheaply the hopes of LGBT youth in this country. Do not manhandle their dreams of a country that embraces them for who they are.
On gay equality, it’s time for the BSA leadership to lead. Instead of this unsustainable proposed half-measure, embrace a true national policy of inclusion. Welcome gay scouts—not because the Anytown Lions Club which charters Troop #n thinks it’s okay, but because it’s part of our national moral character to be inclusive of all people and such welcome is true to the spirit of the Boy Scout’s mission to raise good boys into great men.
Until they do, the BSA leadership is failing that young boy who gazes out at an evolving country. Until they do, they are failing to teach our children well.
Bishop Gene Robinson is a part of HRC’s Religion and Faith Council and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC. Chad Griffin is President of the Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC.