The latest proposal from the Boy Scouts of America is a compromise. And it’s probably not going to please everyone.
“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
That’s the resolution the approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council will decide on at the annual meeting in May. Notice it doesn’t say anything about including gays as scoutmasters or other adult leaders, but it would lift the ban on gays as Scout members for the first time in the organization’s 103-year history.
As the BSA says in its statement to the media, “This issue remains among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.” There’s no doubt that the BSA has struggled with this issue.
Although the BSA had reaffirmed its commitment to keep gays out of Scouting as members or leaders last summer, the group’s executive board was going to reconsider that decision during a meeting in February with a policy that would leave it up to the individual chartering organizations of troops. Nearly 70 percent of more than 100,000 Scout troops are chartered through churches while around 23 percent are through civic organizations and 8 percent through educational groups.
It was announced that due to “the complexity” of the decision,”a more deliberate” review was needed. Since then, the organization has surveyed parents, Scouts and leaders along with teens and parents outside of Scouting plus chartering organizations and donors, among others.
Their findings tend to mirror what I found informally from asking members and parents of my 15-year-old son’s troop this past year. Parents varied in their reactions while the Scouts — all over age 13 — that I talked with agreed: Scouting should be open to all boys, regardless of their sexual orientation. One Eagle Scout called the current policy “sad” and “ridiculous.”
That perception was echoed in the findings from “study groups” designed to find out what Scouts and their parents felt about any proposed changes. “The current policy does not represent a core value of Scouting,” according to “a majority” of current Boy Scouts and Venturers, a program for teen boys and girls.
Parents under 50 were more likely to oppose the BSA’s current policy of excluding gays, while the percentage of parents (of all ages) of current Scouts who approve of the BSA’s ban on gays has fallen from 57 percent three years ago to 48 percent this year.
My favorite comment from a parent is this one, sent to me in an e-mail from the father of an Eagle Scout, who quoted the Boy Scout Law: ”‘Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.’ Don’t see anything in there that excludes gays.”
Chartering organizations surveyed said that their concern was more with gay adults as leaders and not with gays as Scout members.
Allowing openly gay individuals to serve in leadership positions will be a tougher policy to change. Although research shows such fears are ungrounded, the belief persists for some that gay individuals are more likely to sexually molest boys. Four leading experts in the field of child sexual abuse prevention consulted by the BSA stated, “The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children.”
The Boy Scouts probably have worked harder than any other organization to protect its members from sexual predators with the establishment of two-deep leadership that keeps any Scout from being alone with an adult. In addition, every adult who volunteers must take Youth Protection Training every two years. Granted, that’s not going to stop a sexual predator, but it educates the rest of the adults; when I took the course this winter, I found it had been updated to include information on how predators “groom” potential victims.
It’s become obvious through the discussion about gay marriage in this country that attitudes toward gays have shifted dramatically. Maybe that’s because most, if not all, of us can count gays among our friends.
And we’ve learned that their sexual orientation doesn’t matter.