May 11, 2013

NEXT WEEK, the Boy Scouts of America will decide whether to allow openly gay boys to participate in one of the country’s biggest voluntary organizations. On May 23, delegates to a national meeting in Dallas will vote on a resolution that would permit teens to go camping, earn merit badges, take the scout oath — even after coming out of the closet. It wouldn’t, however, let openly gay adults serve as leaders.

Even as a compromise policy, the resolution is unattractive. Though that may not have been the intent, it sends a message that gay adults are suspect, even threatening. It also puts the organization in the contradictory position of encouraging gay 17-year-old boys to become leaders, then denying those same boys the opportunity to lead scouts after their 18th birthdays. At the very least, it is only a matter of time before a new generation of scouts eliminates these inconsistencies by ending discrimination altogether.

But the only thing worse than voting for the plan would be voting against it. Better at least to reduce the scope of discrimination than to continue current policy.

How, then, will the Washington-area’s delegates vote? It’s hard to tell, because the National Capital Area Council, which covers over a dozen local counties and the District, hasn’t taken an official stand one way or the other — though it has said it will abide by the results. A council spokesman also could not say how individual officials would choose to vote, while Hugh Redd, the council’s president, did not respond to our inquiries. Local scouting volunteers who advocate reform are worried. They say that some of the recent communications from the council leadership bristle at the notion of change. And they wonder why their leaders won’t take a strong stand in favor of ending at least some discrimination.

Not only should those leaders commit to voting for the resolution, but also they should seek to do more. Scouting officials in Baltimore, for example, have offered a resolution that would permit openly gay leaders, if individual troop sponsors decide they want to allow them to participate. Even that policy would still condone, though not encourage, continuing discrimination. But it would also offer an organization at risk of splitting apart a fairer way station to broader reform. Openly gay men could participate in enlightened troops; those still uncomfortable with the idea could go to others. Over time, we’re confident the culture will continue to become more open to fairness.

The National Capital Area Council should use its clout as a large fraction of the scouting community to push for the Baltimore resolution to be considered fully. Then its members should vote for it.

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