July 19, 2012

THE BOTTOM LINE is this: On Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America — one of the nation’s most prominent youth organizations — essentially told the young people it seeks to empower that some of them are unequal, merely because of the way they were born.

For the past two years, the Scouts had been reevaluating their infamous exclusion policy, which denies “membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.” In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld that policy, ruling that the First Amendment’s freedom of association allows private organizations to exclude whomever they choose. Numerous protest campaigns ensued in the following years. Those prompted the Boy Scouts to reconsider but, ultimately, not to do the right thing. On Tuesday, an 11-member special review committee reached a unanimous decision: Homosexuals “open or avowed” are still unwelcome in the Boy Scouts.

The decision may have been within the organization’s legal rights, but it represents a sad embrace of intolerance that does not belong in a program that purports to “prepare young people to make ethical moral choices.” The reaffirmation can only worsen a climate in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths are often bullied and otherwise made to feel unwelcome — in extreme cases, driven to attempt suicide.

In an apparent attempt to pretend at a tolerance it failed to embrace, the Boy Scouts said they welcome “all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.” Not only does this statement suggest — inadvertently or not — the antiquated notion of homosexuality as a “different path” one may “wish” to follow, it’s also patently untrue. Reaffirming a ban on “open or avowed” homosexuals is nothing if not an incitement to “criticize” and “condemn.” The prejudice seems inimical to three of the qualities that Scout Law promotes: kindness, friendship and bravery. It also calls into question the organization’s oft-cited motto, “Be Prepared.” Prepared for what kind of world?