The Boy Scouts: Demonizing Gay Men, Empowering Bashers on the Streets

Less than a week ago, we were stunned by the brutal killing of 32-year-old Mark Carson, a gay man shot dead in New York City on the street in an alleged hate crime by a man who hurled anti-gay slurs. Carson appeared to be killed simply because of the gunman's twisted beliefs about gay men. The killing followed a wave of similar attacks (and was followed by still others) that showed a rise in violence by individuals who think gay adults are dangerous, deviant and disgusting. To then have the Boy Scouts of America establish a new policy by the end of the same week which further validated the beliefs of these attackers is exceeding cruel. And it's far from any kind of progress.

The ugliest lie about gay men is that we are likely to be predators and pedophiles, preying upon children. This twisted belief, backed by no facts but exploiting deep-seated myths and powerful fears about homosexuality, is still firmly embedded in our culture, as are lies about blacks, Jews and other groups demonized within our culture. It's the lie that has kept many gay men from even interacting with teens and young children, fearful of being in the position of being wrongly accused of making sexual advances. It's a lie that often inhibits organizing, depriving us of the intergenerational mentoring and self-esteem-building that is so important for any minority group that is discriminated against.

And it's a lie that empowers bashers and draws blood on our streets.

The predator lie tells young boys, gay and straight, to be suspect and fearful of adult gay men. And the BSA, adopting a new policy allowing gay scouts but not gay scoutmasters, is now furthering the lie in more powerful way. The message from the BSA to a scout who might be thinking he is gay is that he better hope he isn't because he will grow up to be a predator. The Boy Scouts is telling gay boys that they won't be able to be trusted around children when they become adults and that they'll be booted from the organization. Perhaps worse than that, the BSA is telling straight scouts that the gay scout who comes out to them, or whom they might learn about, will grow up to be a predator. And that is exactly the kind of vicious demagoguery that feeds discrimination and violence.

Many well-meaning people worked hard to get this change, and sometimes, in the thick of battle, anything that makes your opponents angry -- and this change is surely not making the anti-gay, evangelical right happy -- seems like a big win. Most of them see the change as falling far short but as a pragmatic, incremental step that they hope will lead to end of the of the entire ban soon. And true, scouts who learn they are gay and state that publicly, or who are outed by others, now may not experience being ejected by the BSA (though the details of all this still seem quite murky).

But continuing to ban lesbian den mothers and gay scoutmasters is sending a horrible message to American youth, including the scouts, gay and straight. The BSA made this change to take some of the heat off, and no matter what equality advocates hope for, that will happen. Some companies may come back as sponsors or will decide not to pull out. Some parents and young people who were uncomfortable may decide to stay now. Anti-gay religious leaders who blustered and threatened perhaps won't pull support and will grudgingly accept the change and fight hard to keep out gay adults. None of us knows how long this may drag on, and the scouts have shown enormous resilience in supporting discrimination. And until the BSA drops the ban, it will be promoting the ugly lie about gays that fuels bullying, violence and the kind of attack that took the life of Mark Carson.