Since 1911, every Boy Scout and Scouter (adult leader) has been required to agree to the following in their application form.
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
If you are gay or even doubt the existence of a God, however, you cannot be a Scout or a Scouter. You can be a gay astronaut, soldier, firefighter, police officer, US Senator, or President of the United States, but you can’t be a Boy Scout or a leader of Boy Scouts.
On June 7th, the BSA released the following statement re-iterating its long-term policy, “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant 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.” The statement came in the face of independent local councils choosing not to enforce the national policy. There was an outcry in response.
In a follow up to the press release, on July 17, 2012, BSA announced it had convened a 2-year “confidential” review by an 11 person committee. The committee reached a “unanimous consensus” recommending the policy be retained.
Most people hearing that a private organization that recruits our children and may be found in just about every community in the United States, bans all gay, atheist, and agnostic people, wouldn’t believe it possible in this day and age. While private, the BSA is considered as part of the fabric of American life, its values representing the best of what our country has to offer. This policy, however, doesn’t represent the America we have been striving to become. The BSA policy does not represent the values of BrooklineHub.com or Boy Scout Troop 6, Den 3 Brookline or the vast majority of people from our community (right?).
In their June 7 statement, the BSA attempted to walk a fine line by elaborating on its long term policy banning gays from participating in scouting. By stating the BSA is not proactively inquiring about the sexual orientation of their employees, volunteers, and members, the organization eerily echoed the failed line of thinking behind the military’s now defunct ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Since 1991, the BSA has stated, however, that openly gay people are prohibited from leadership positions. What exactly does openly gay mean? Is it how you dress when you aren’t wearing a Scout uniform? The way we talk or certain hand gestures? If a legally married gay couple with a scout-aged child wants to volunteer, are they considered openly gay? Ironically, the flip side of this logic – we’ll tolerate you if you aren’t “open” or honest about your sexual orientation – hardly embodies the values espoused in the Scout Oath.
In our view, “looking the other way” is not close to a solution. Policies do not exist in a vacuum. They have real impact on real people. The BSA is essentially saying ‘we won’t ask you who you are, but we want you to know that our official policy is that if you are one of “those” people, we don’t want you’. It’s one thing for adult volunteers to face, and it’s clear that more evolved communities like Brookline are almost brazen in their disregard for BSA policies on these issues, but what about the young people who are still discovering their sexuality? How do the BSA policies and the confidential review board effect them? How does this policy make them feel about themselves and their place in the world? What message does it give about expressing yourself honestly? What about the children of gay parents who live in communities that support the BSA policy? What kind of message does it send them?
The BSA policy puts good people like Dr Karin Weldon and Matt Amory in no win situations. Weldon elected to leave Scouting because in good conscience, she could not stay with this policy in place. Amory, stating clearly that Pack 6 is opposed to the national BSA policy, decided to stay because in his good conscience he can’t leave. Policies that discriminate do this to people. Dr Weldon sacrificed the opportunity to see kids she has worked with for 2 and a half years reach important goals in their scouting journey. Amory decided to stay at the risk of being considered a hypocrite. We support both their decisions. It is the Boy Scouts of America who are abandoning our young people with this discriminatory policy. Amory and Weldon are role models who have made different, but courageous choices in the face of an unacceptable situation.
It is also important to note that in 1911, when it was decided that Boy Scouts must be “morally straight”; the country was a lot different. In 1911, the 19th amendment guaranteeing woman the right to vote was nine years from ratification, segregation and only a token nod to equality of the races was the law of the land, and we still had two decades before “Irish Need Not Apply” signs were no longer found in the windows of businesses and factories. The country has changed, but there is still a long way to go. Some private organizations like the Boy Scouts of America have further to go than most.
By R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher