If openly gay people can wear the uniform of any U.S. military branch, they ought to be able to wear a Boy Scouts of America uniform without fear of recrimination. The organization’s national board should overturn Scouting ’s ban on gay members and leaders when it meets next week in Texas.
The overdue move to lift national membership and leadership restrictions based on sexual orientation would start to remove the shadows of hypocrisy from Boy Scouts’ focus on service to humanity.
“Scouting, by its very nature, is meant to encourage character building and to teach leadership,” Dr. Mark Varnum, a former Eagle Scout and Cub Scout pack leader, told the BDN in July 2012, when he returned his awards and medals to the Boy Scouts of America in protest over the national organization’s continued adherence to the ban based on sexual orientation.
“In my opinion, you can’t be a leader and you can’t teach character if you’re going to discriminate against other people,” he said.
Maine and the federal government have passed laws and fortified policies that recognize equality for Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. The Boy Scouts’ current policy of discriminating against gay people sends a contradictory message to children who take an oath to be “a good family member and a good citizen, by working for your country’s good and obeying its laws.”
A similar but separate organization, the Girl Scouts of the USA, already acknowledges that a person’s leadership qualities do not depend on sexual orientation. The national policy states: “The Girl Scouts value diversity and inclusiveness and, therefore, do not discriminate on any basis. However, we do not permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation, nor do we recruit accordingly.”
If approved, the Boy Scouts’ elimination of its national policy against gay membership would leave the decision about allowing openly gay leaders to local groups that sponsor Scouting programs, according to Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Boy Scouts of America. Churches and other groups that host Scout packs would not be required to act inconsistently with their “mission, principles and religious beliefs,” Smith said.
However, parents who don’t want an implied message of exclusion based on sexual orientation to be part of their children’s Scouting experience would have new options to place their children in packs that don’t accept discrimination.
It’s in the Boy Scouts’ own interests to be responsive to the growing public pressure. The group Scouts for Equality includes more than 3,150 Eagle Scouts. And more than 462,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking the Boy Scouts to grant an Eagle Scout application for California resident Ryan Andresen, who is openly gay.
Lifting the ban on gay leaders would not signal an endorsement of adding sex education or elevating the importance of sexuality in Boy Scout programs.
The Pine Tree Council, which runs Scouting programs in 10 southern and western Maine counties, maintains a zero-tolerance policy on sexual advocacy and behavior, according to Scout Executive Eric Tarbox. The council, which includes more than 350 packs serving as many as 12,000 children and adult volunteers, does not offer any type of sexual education and does not train adult volunteers to counsel children on sexuality. That’s a role for parents, religious leaders and doctors, he said.
Revoking the Boy Scouts’ ban on gays is about doing a better job of promoting honesty and services to all others, equally. We urge the board to end the national restriction.