The Boy Scouts’ leadership loss


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On Thursday, the 1,400 voting members of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America voted to approve a resolution that would remove the restriction denying membership to youth based on their sexual orientation. "While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting," the organization said in a statement. "Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens."

The vote does not change the Boy Scouts' existing ban on gay adult leaders, however. "A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration," the statement reads, "thus, the policy for adults remains in place."

While the move to allow gay Scouts is sure to cheer some as a measure of progress—and it's commendable the organization finally agreed to open itself up to all youth—the decision not to do the same for Scout leaders employs confounding logic and sends a mixed message to both the gay community and the millions of children involved in the Boy Scouts.

As I wrote in April when the resolution was first announced, the proposal's differing treatment of its members and adult leaders raises troubling questions for young scouts who are gay. Why will you accept me now but not when I'm older? Does this mean my opportunities for the future are unequal to my peers’? And how can an organization designed to build character and empower children simultaneously discriminate against potential leaders, if not its members? As James Dale, the scoutmaster who was expelled for being gay, wrote in the Post earlier this week, "equality cannot be doled out in fits and starts."

Moreover, it’s often said that an organization is only as good as its leaders. If the Boy Scouts does not allow gay and lesbian adults to become troop leaders, it is limiting the pool of people who can contribute their talents and energies to the Scouts' mission. The vote today to allow gay youth to become Boy Scouts may be a step forward. But until they welcome gay leaders, too, the Boy Scouts is missing a chance to follow its oath and be its best.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

No merit badges for the Boy Scouts’ proposal on gays

Washington area Boy Scout leaders should state their position on admitting gays

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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