Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.
Above is the Boy Scouts of America's position on same-sex attraction, and its justification for its policy banning openly gay and bisexual boys from being members and leaders. Since reaffirming that position last July, the BSA has faced criticism and lost corporate donors and was to consider whether to allow local councils to decide whether to allow gay members but instead postponed the decision. I do recognize that the BSA's National Executive Board faces a difficult process; whatever they decide will be sure to please some people and alienate others. But the decision -- specifically the decision to allow openly gay scouts, or at least to allow local councils to allow gay scouts -- shouldn't be a hard one. Ultimately, the BSA's own justifications for its anti-gay policy simply don't hold water. Here's a step-by-step breakdown:
1. It's not like Boy Scouts have never heard of what "gay" means and would suddenly be introduced to the concept if the ban is lifted.
It's not 1950 anymore. Most adolescents have already been introduced to the fact that some people are attracted to people of the same sex. Besides the adults in their lives, kids may learn about the existence of gay and bisexual people through the news, watching shows like Modern Family or Glee or talking with peers.
2. A discussion that acknowledges that a gay person is gay is not a traumatic event.
Let's say that the BSA drops the ban on gay scouts. Here's what a typical conversation might look like with a now openly gay member:
Scout 1: "How was your weekend?"
Scout 2: "It was pretty good. I studied for a chem test and went to the movies with my boyfriend."
If scouts can embrace diversity in other domains, such as religion (yes, they ban atheist and agnostic members, but I've heard many great stories of embracing interfaith diversity), then surely they can tolerate a difference in whom a person may love.
3. It's always an appropriate time and setting for people to be true to themselves (except in situations in which it is unsafe to do so).
When and how (or if) a person comes out is up to them, but one person's prejudiced beliefs should not keep another person from being honest about who they are. Unfortunately, scouts who joined well before they were aware of their sexual orientation are forced to decide between being genuine about who they are and keeping the activities, opportunities for personal growth and circle of friends that scouting provides. Forcing a scout to choose is unfair and can be harmful.
4. Nothing is stopping parents from sharing their thoughts about homosexuality with their kids.
Though most kids have at least some idea of what it means to be gay by the time they become teenagers, some parents may want to share their own perspective. Nothing is stopping these parents from sharing their views however they see fit. Sure, some may prefer to wait until their kids are older, but that's not how the world works. Kids teach each other about all sorts of things that their parents may prefer that the kids not learn until later: four-letter words, how babies are made and concepts like divorce.
I wonder, though, what parents who support the BSA's gay ban think they are protecting their kids from. If a parent thinks that being around gay people will turn their child gay, that's simply not true. Plus, there are already gay people in a child's school, and there are quite possibly gay people in their Boy Scout troop who just aren't out. If a parent fears some sort of inappropriate behavior (e.g., a gay scout making unwanted advances toward another scout), such a behavior is highly unlikely, but were it to happen, the behavior itself, and not the person's sexual orientation, should be addressed. If the fear is merely of difference, that doesn't seem like a good reason to exclude boys from an otherwise nearly all-inclusive organization that claims to promote character and leadership.
5. And here's why the BSA and parents of scouts should take note.
I was a Cub Scout for four years; I quit after the fourth grade because I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I harbored no bad feelings, though; in fact, I held a lot of respect for people who continued and went on to learn and grow through their outdoors experiences and community service initiatives. Today, I still acknowledge that a person who earns the rank of Eagle put forth a great deal of time and likely made great contributions to his community. But I do not hold the rank in as high a regard as I once did, knowing that gay and bisexual youth who are passionate about scouting may be denied the same rank not because of any flaw or failure on their part, but because of who they are. I suspect I'm not alone in that feeling.