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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Boy Scouts of America Would Raise Better Americans By Embracing LGBT Citizens

By Andrew Belonsky -

The Boy Scouts of America yesterday celebrated their 101st birthday, a huge milestone for an influential organization with old roots. Emphasis on old, because, despite great social change, the Scouts continue to discriminate against gay people. It's about time they give themselves a political face lift.
Since its founding in 1910, the Scouts have instructed millions of boys and men on a variety of skills, like low-impact camping and community service. They have also made it their mission to instill their members with archaic, anti-American homophobia. The most famous instance of which came in a Supreme Court battle sparked by the expulsion of Scoutmaster James Dale for being gay.
According to the Scouts' leadership, Dale's sexuality contradicted a variety of their bylaws, particularly those that addressed a "duty to God" and to remain "morally straight," as well an obligation to remain "clean."
"[A]ny persons who advocate to Scouting youth that homosexual conduct is ‘morally straight’ under the Scout Oath, or ‘clean’ under the Scout Law will not be registered as adult leaders," they said in their argument.
Justice John Paul Stevens found this argument to be spurious, writing, "It is plain as the light of day that neither one of these principles–'morally straight' and 'clean'–says the slightest thing about homosexuality. Indeed, neither term in the Boy Scouts’ Law and Oath expresses any position whatsoever on sexual matters."
Still, the Court eventually sided with the Scouts, saying the group remains protected by "freedom of association," and therefore can eject anyone who they feel hinders their "ability to advocate public or private viewpoints." And those viewpoints, according to the Scouts, don't include gay rights.
With a Supreme Court win under their belt, the Scouts were free to continue on their discriminatory way. And they did.
Another high-profile example of the Scouts' tenacious homophobia was in 1998, when they booted long-time leader Dave Rice for founding Scouting for All, an advocacy group that fights for tolerance and acceptance among the Scouts' ranks. And just last year the Scouts told a member's gay father, Jon Langbert, that he could no longer serve in a leadership role.
"We do have a policy that avowed gays and atheists are not allowed to be a registered leader or member of Boy Scouts of America... It's a longstanding policy," said Scout executive Pat Currie at the time.
He continued, "We focus on our mission, and our mission is to take young people and prepare them for an exceptional adulthood." To that, one could obviously argue "exceptional adulthood" includes acceptance of all Americans, particularly considering the Scouts dedication to "patriotic" endeavors: their stated purpose reads, "[We] promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism."
A good patriot, I would argue, does not exclude other members of his or her nation based on their sexuality.
But perhaps trying to define patriotism is too politically charged, and we can glean more from another part of the Scouts' promise: "To help other people at all times." Discriminating against people surely doesn't help. In fact, it hurts: again and again studies show that hateful exclusion has a detrimental impact on people's sense of self-worth, as evidenced by last year's tragic string of gay suicides.
While the Supreme Court's majority may have seen a constitutional rationale in the Scouts patented discrimination, Justice Stevens observed in his dissent that the right of association is "not a freedom to discriminate at will, nor is it a right to maintain an exclusionary membership policy simply out of fear of what the public reaction would be if the group’s membership were opened up." That brings us to the most practical argument for gay inclusion in the Scouts.
As Michael Jones pointed out in the petition asking the Scouts to evolve their policies, there are more gay people with children these days, and in fact more children aware of their homosexuality. As the nation as a whole becomes more accepting of gay people -- an exponential trend, if polls are to be believed -- the Scouts will either have to adapt or find themselves on the wrong side of history. It's that simple.
The Scouts ongoing, and apparently prideful, discrimination of gay people not only contradicts their dedication to educating more responsible, community-oriented citizens, it guarantees them a place in history's dustbin. If they want to live up to their good name, this storied institution will do an about face on gay inclusion and teach their 4.5 million members that being a good American and a good citizen means embracing everyone, regardless of their religion, race, sexuality or any other divisive social aspect.
Join the petition, and tell the Boy Scouts to end their discriminatory politics.

 petition text -
Dear Boy Scouts of America
It's been ten years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could ban openly gay and lesbian people from leadership positions within scouting. Times have changed over these ten years. A number of children have gay and lesbian parents, or gay and lesbian mentors, who would make excellent leaders.

As a recent case in Vermont shows, these potential scout leaders are still excluded from the Boy Scouts. In Vermont, two moms applied to be leaders for their son's scouting troop. They were told they could not do this, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In response to this case, more than 25 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including several who were former Scouts, sent your office a letter, urging you to reconsider your organization's ban on gay and lesbian leaders. In their letter, these representatives said, "We think the Boy Scouts would encourage all parents to take an active involvement in their children's Scouting life." By all parents, that should include gay and lesbian parents, too.

The Boy Scouts are dedicated to fostering among America's youth a sense of responsibility and integrity. But discrimination can't go hand-in-hand with those two concepts. By failing to include all eligible and well-qualified people from scouting, your organization is telling America's children that it's permissible to view people as "others," based solely on their sexual orientation.

Please consider changing this policy. It has been ten years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that your organization could ban gay and lesbian leaders from scouting. Ten years is a long time, and times have changed. There are more children in gay and lesbian parent households than ever before. Shouldn't the Boy Scouts welcome these families?

Thank you for your time.
[Your name]

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