One Eagle’s Perspective on the new BSA Membership Policy

I want to start this off with I am an Eagle Scout out of the Atlanta Area Council (Class of 2005) and my Dad is an Eagle Scout out of the Great Smoky Mountain Council (Class of 1970) and his dad was a Scoutmaster. So, Scouting is a bit of a family tradition.

On Thursday 23 May 2013, 103 years 3 months and 15 days after its founding, the Boy Scouts of America have voted to repeal their membership ban on gay youth.  However, this is only a small step in the right direction.

Over the last few months there had been a lot of discussion about gays and the BSA. It all started with the CEO of AT&T and a couple of others on the National Board. The National Council then decided to punt the issue to the National Meeting. This gave them time to do the market research and find out the thoughts of many current and past members, parents, and even nonmembers. (It wasn’t a bad survey either. Much better than those that went out before the GAGOP convention.)

After the surveys, the question for the national meeting was whittled down to only cover the membership restriction on gay youth, and left out entirely the question of gay leaders.

This vote carries many consequences, both good and some not so good. To quote a friend of mine “The National Council of the Boy Scouts has decided to declare what we already knew; Scouting is for all young men.” The opportunities in Scouting should never have been kept away for such a silly reason.

Because a youth is gay does not imply that they are any less Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean or Reverent. It also does not impede their ability to do a good turn daily, or be prepared.

Starting 1 January 2014 gay youth will be able to enjoy the same program and have the same opportunity of character growth and leadership development as Gerald Ford, Steven Spielberg, Robert Gates and Neil Armstrong.

However, I very much disagree with Kyle Wingfield. Where this vote has failed is what happens when these kids turn 18 and become adults. They are treated like a cancer and removed, just as they have been for years.

After a youth has defined himself by the Scouting movement, and he has been able to flourish in the program, he is told that he cannot give back. He cannot continue to make Scouting a better program. If he is an Eagle Scout, he will not be able to fulfill his oath.

But, all that is different is that he is a day older. He was gay before as a youth, but because he is still gay on his 18th birthday, he can no longer be involved in the program that helped make him the man he has become.

While we have made a small step forward as an organization, we have still failed. And that is shameful.

I have known many gay Scouts, and many gay Eagle Scouts. Just because one three letter word can be used to describe one aspect of their life, does not mean that they are incapable of being a proper role model. I think one of my mentors in Scouting did a damn fine job.

71 comments

  1. Dave Bearse says:

    Reverent? That virtue is different from the others because it has many more self-proclaimed arbiters that each have God on their side.

    Like don’t ask, don’t tell, it’s a step in the right direction, though in the case of scouting I’m concerned it may fracture the organization.

  2. pettifogger says:

    On the subject of gay leaders, I have heard several comments to the extent of – “I don’t really expect/think/whatever that a gay scoutmaster would be anything but proper with my kids. That said, I would never let my daughter participate in a group of girls led by an adult male unless there were people I trust participating also (even if I had some trust in the adult male). It isn’t just the risk of something terrible happening, but there are just too many issues that come up in any situation involving an allegation of impropriety (even if small). I feel similarly about my sons being in a group with a gay scout leader.”

    FWIW, I don’t have children, and never got to high levels in scouting. But it does ring at least a little true to me (the comparison, I mean). I think it is somewhat faulty in that it is making decisions based on rare exceptions, but I think most people do that as a matter of course when it comes to children. For anyone but family and my closest friends, an adolescent female spending time with a grown man in some position of confidence strikes me as inappropriate. Of course, I don’t know that opposite-interest orientation provides any barrier to that, but I think we feel like it should.

    This isn’t an allegation that gay people are prone to pedophilia in any sense. But is the comparison reasonable? If you think it isn’t, is the adult male-adolescent girl avoidance similarly antiquated/unreasonable?

    I believe in the merits of scouting, so perhaps the answer is that all scout leaders, especially those of prominent scouting backgrounds (Eagle Scouts) have a presumption of being of high character. Anyway, I think the comment touches on some interesting subjects many parents could probably provide input on.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      This is one of the reasons that Youth Protection training has been such an imperative in the last ten years. It’s kind of weird for me to be able to look back and see just how much of a change has happened since I was a youth. Back in the 80’s and earlier, this training and the associated best practices didn’t exist. But,with the better YP training and the requirement of all adults to have taken it before they even register with a troop, the likelihood of future abuse is greatly diminished.

  3. Three Jack says:

    Good analysis Eric. What is BSA planning to do when many of their local sponsors pull out as a result of the vote? Reports this morning indicate big players like Roswell St Baptist Church may stop supporting scout troops.

    • pettifogger says:

      I feel this is a bad idea for churches, although I don’t expect churches to bend to societal change as many do.

      But, scouting has long been associated with churches in much of the country, so while it may be necessary to take this action do to the tenets of a faith, you’re going to end up giving up some faith-based influence (however small) those scouts may not otherwise receive.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      I haven’t heard a lot about what’s going to happen with local Charter Orgs that pull out. One of my friends, who is a bit more tuned into the professional side of things ( he was a pro for a while about 10 years ago), has said that local councils have been identifying folks that are ok with the change . The reason being that the goal would be for those individuals to group together and form a “Friends of Troop XXXX” type organization to become the new charter org. Then the local council could move the charter from the original organization, like Roswell Street Baptist, to the “Friends of” Org. Which sounds like a decent plan but leaves open a few questions like where the troop will meet and what happens with all the troop gear.

      • Three Jack says:

        That makes sense. I think the churches will be making a big mistake, but it is their choice to make.

        • I guess I’m going to have to take a look at the various scout troops around my area. If any church pulls their support and the scouts need another place to meet, they’re welcome to use my farm. I don’t have a large indoor meeting space, so I may not be able to easily accommodate a large troop, but I’d rather not see a program shut down because some church decides that this is a deciding factor in their support.

  4. Trey A. says:

    Great perspective Eric. I too was a Scout–shamefully a Life scout just short of Eagle–and I agree with you 100 percent.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      Baden Powell said that the most important rank in scouting is First Class. You made it there and you have all the skills. There’s no shame in that.

  5. I too was a scout though I only went through First Class. I think I dropped out around 9th or 10th grade. I have no problem whatsoever with the change in the BSA rules. In fact, I had no idea that such a rule existed. In fact, it seems to me, at least in the later years while I was still involved in scouting, that there was some sort of a rule about there needing to be more than one adult present at any time. As well, adults and scouts did not share tents when camping.

    I find it odd that there’s such a focus on not allowing gay leaders into scouts… what about just banning pedophiles? It seems to me that even the Catholic church has problems with pedophiles in their ranks… is the problem that they haven’t banned gay priests? I think the solution in both cases isn’t more rules to exclude those who may have a preference for the same sex, but perhaps to make sure all youth are protected by continuing to implement rules about an adult not being alone with a child period – whether it’s the same sex or opposite sex. That’s not to say that everyone is bad, but it simply takes away any opportunity for those rare cases where abuse is a potential.

  6. sockpuppet says:

    The BSA is pretty much done for. They get half their support from the big corporate sponsors who support this change, but the other half from socially conservative religious groups. While the Mormon Church and a large Methodist denomination states that they are OK with this change, the vast majority of the other groups will not, and this will result in nearly half of the big institutional support plus a great deal of the smaller individual or group financial support not going to the BSA. And that is just financial. A lot of the folks who gave volunteer support, institutional support, facilities etc. to the BSA will no longer. It will decimate the organization.

    Such folks including the NY Times have already raised the “What about the girl scouts and their longtime acceptable of gays and being able to thrive” canard. Well the girl scouts have always been a secular, progressive (and left-leaning) organization that has never relied on socially conservative donations and institutional support. The reality is that the liberal groups pushed this change knowing that it would cost the BSA their socially conservative support are not going to lift a finger to support an organization that is entirely male, mostly white, mostly middle to upper class and from middle America, and reinforces traditional, patriarchal and religious values. Many of them will still find plenty of reasons to oppose the BSA on other grounds, and even the ones who won’t are not going to replace the many millions of dollars – not to mention the even more difficult to replace institutional and volunteer support – that the BSA will lose over this. They will either go back to ceasing to care about the BSA now that they have achieved their gay rights victory just as they did before, or they will just attack the “intolerance” and “hate” and “bullying” of the people and entities who cut ties with the group.

    Now I am not saying that the BSA will go bankrupt or anything. Rather, it will continue as a shell of itself, like it is in Canada where the group pretty much no longer exists. Instead, there is only Scouts Canada, which has fewer than 75,000 members (where BSA has over 2.7 million) and includes both males and females.

    NONE of the “mainstream” media outlets are talking about the massive financial, institutional and volunteer support the scouts will lose because of this. This is significant because if they really cared about the BSA, they would urge their side, the liberal/progressive/left side, to step up and replace that support. They aren’t because they have no intention to. The people pushing this are the very ones who honestly could care less if there were no BSA at all. The people pushing this are the ones who won’t lift a finger when the BSA will pretty much be unavailable in most of the country because they won’t have the money or the volunteers to staff chapters in most areas. And that is precisely why they aren’t talking about it.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      I don’t see a lot of this happening but your estimate of a 10% drop in membership seems about right to me.

      An important note is that this was a decision made by registered voting members in the BSA. Not an outside imposition of the policy.

    • George Chidi says:

      You’re talking about the demise of the organization as though continuing the ban would have preserved it.

      SP, total youth membership in BSA’s traditional programs has declined by about a third since 1999, despite an increase in the available population. That decline has accelerated in recent years. Some of that might be attributable to cyclical trends … but it’s hard to miss the connection between how society has increasingly rejected anti-gay sentiment and how much the Boy Scouts had been identified as an anti-gay organization. The pedophilia cover-up didn’t help, either.

      BSA had three choices. It could cling to its pre-existing view of gay exclusion and watch as somewhat more than half of the country rejected scouting as a last refuge for bigots. Or, it could open up and lose a somewhat-smaller group of hard-core anti-gay bigots. Or some compromise — keep gay scoutmasters out while allowing gay scouts — as a transitional posture.

      Next stop, inexorably, will be admission of atheists and gay scoutmasters. Because if they don’t, they’re done for.

    • George Chidi says:

      Also notable: the Boy Scouts long allowed for troops to discriminate on the basis of race, with segregated councils and troops all the way up to 1974.

      Morally straight. Pff.

  7. swamidave says:

    No one would expect a 11-12 yr old girl to share a tent or shower house w/ a 16-17 yr old boy. This decision is asinine.

    • saltycracker says:

      1988 BSA Youth Protection Program

      In the list:
      Separate accommodations (or times)

  8. saltycracker says:

    After reviewing my BSA handbook it makes no reference as for sexual orientation. There is understanding plant germination and animal husbandry.

    As for my experiences taking the troop to Sea Base, the adults left the subject of hetero or gay alone. Of course there are times boys would be discouraged from “discussions”. Be courteous (be a gentleman), reverent (respect others) and friendly.

    No one should have their child exposed to sexual activity or sexual orientation pressure. Hetero and gay make fine leaders and the line is crossed when sexually harassed by either orientation.

  9. Napoleon says:

    The early teenage years are confusing and awkward enough, especially for kids in middle and the first couple of years of high school. I finished out Scouts as a Life Scout after my freshman year of high school. I probably would have made Eagle, I was only 6 months and a project away, but life intervened.

    I am aware that kids these days know a lot more about sex than my generation did, but from the teenagers I know, that confusion and awkwardness still exists. Some do believe you can be “gay” and still be “reverent,” part of the Scout law. Scouts also pledge in their Oath to keep themselves, “morally straight.” Irony of double meaning that could now have aside, most religions do hold some sort of prohibition against premarital sex, which, to engage in, would leave one in opposition to the Oath.

    Now we can spend kilobytes of data talking about how ridiculous it is to suggest that high school kids abstain and that notions suggesting such are misguided, antiquated and backwards. But we are not talking about most high school kids. We are talking about a select set of young men who have taken it upon themselves to set themselves apart from the norm. That is what makes Scouting different. It is also why so many religious institutions support scouting.

    It is not the goal of religion to conform with society, but to set an unchanging standard, a standard that is in many cases in direct opposition to the views of society.

    It is what led many European churches, the radical churches which would not conform to society, to hide and smuggle Jews out of Europe all the while in danger themselves of the forces of the Nazi SS.

    But the separation between church and the society as a whole is of course not necessary that dire. If the Christian Churches that support Scouting hold to the commandment by Paul to the Christians in Rome, “not [to] conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” then a church or the BSA conforming to the pattern of this world would be outside of the ideals of, at least, the norm of Christianity. As most Americans who participate in Scouting still tend to hold to those more orthodox views of Christianity, might as well call them “old fashion” and the definition they give of what is a “morally straight” path, I can see Scouting starting to decline.

    It is difficult to see how an organization that was founded and neutered with a strong element of Judeo-Christian faith as its foundation can be pro-gay on one hand and “moral” and “reverent” on the other. Of course, many Christian denominations are having the same debate, but I will defer to what I stated above.

    In the name of social engineering and political correctness, we have taken an institution where young men could feel safe and free from the pressures that come with changing hormones, cracking voices, and the other insecurities of adolescent, and changed it to one where the stark realities of sexual orientation will be thrown into the mix. It is still some time before these are issues my son will have to face, but as his parent, I will look to other opportunities than Scouting for him. I’m sure I will be part of the number that will never be known or counted that doesn’t drop out of Scouting, but never enters it in the first place.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Reconsider unchanging standards. I think you would agree that so much that was past standard has been cast aside for the glory of God.

      Jesus’ parable that no man puts a piece of new cloth on an old garment, or new wine into old bottles, taught we live a new life. And that it may be OK to discard the old, when the old and new do not fit nicely together, and the old no longer is able to contain the new.

  10. Harry says:

    What self-respecting parent is going to allow their sons to affiliate with a dead-end organization of predatory homosexuals? I can already imagine the jokes. Please don’t try to compare with the Catholic church which after all does discourage homosexuality and upholds the future of families. What the Catholic church has had to endure in the way of litigation is nothing, the lawyers are already chomping at the bit.

  11. A recent article stated that roughly 70% of Troops are sponsored by a church or religious organization… so I find your 10% drop in membership off target. The real solution would be for some folks to start an alternative organization that is open to both gay and straight, and then let the free market decide. Instead, a storied and highly respected organization has been forever tarnished and many who have supported BSA over the years feel betrayed. Like you Eric I am a former Scout, but unlike you I am highly disappointed in this outcome.

  12. jiminga says:

    Considering a large percentage of scout sponsors, if not the majority, are churches and synagogues this decision will have a major detrimental impact on scouting. When an organization like scouting bends to the lifestyle of a small minority it has signed it’s own death warrant. Why didn’t gays found there own organization instead of forcing their lifestyle on others? Unfortunately, that’s America today. I can’t pray in public because it will make an atheist uncomfortable…just one example of how political correctness is destroying our way of life.

  13. Does anyone truly believe this “change” is going to really have that much of an effect? Is scouting not still going to teach the same basic principles it always has? Do you think there’s really going to be an influx of gay teenagers all of a sudden saying “I want to be a scout!” because of this change? Someone, please… tell me what exactly you think is going to change here. These are the same kids that go to school together, go on field trips together, study together, play sports together. Do you really think there’s a large population of adolescent homosexuals that have been discriminated against by BSA? I would think the cases are far and few between.

  14. John Vestal says:

    As a former ASM/QM, I’m ok with this decision. It’s not like there aren’t or haven’t been gay scouts forever.

    Also, the two largest religious sponsoring groups (the LDS and the UMC) have confirmed that they will continue to support BSA following this change.

    • saltycracker says:

      Scientifically….incorrect….While environment, conditioning and other external sources may have some consequence, human behavior over history suggests sexuality is much more complex than that.

      My college roommate was a genius and made millions in high tech. He now has Parkinson’s and has spent a lot of money on research and travel around the word particularly as it relates to DNA/genetics and the brain. I have a loved one with type 1 diabetes, no history, gene markers in the family.

      He sent me a CD: “Ghost in Your Genes” a NOVA BBC movie. Google the title. Some amazing studies on why one identical twin may be different from the other, one gets cancer, the other does not, even when growing up in isolated areas in the same environment.

      To oversimplify it, there are genetic on/off switches not yet understood.

      What is interesting is that genetics is significantly more complex than we first thought.

      Find the movie and watch it, fascinating and challenging for those of looking for an easy cure. Google the title, the links are many, like:

      http://bioethicsbytes.wordpress.com/2008/06/30/epigenetics-the-ghost-in-your-genes/

      • John Konop says:

        Salty,

        My nephew is on the honors program at Ohio State in their nanotechnology program. At thanksgiving he was explaining that when you combine nanotechnology with human intelligence gaining rapid speed…..that cures will be happening at a rapid pace…….and this technology can also change traits……..

        I wonder if the gay gene could be indentified, and parents could give their child medicine that would change the gene, would gay people end on a macro? And should parents be able to manipulate traits like size, strength, intelligence, hair color, aggressiveness, tendency toward violenent behavior….? I think this will be the next great debate on this issue?

  15. saltycracker says:

    What will hurt Scouting and make corporate sponsors flee is turning what the BSA leaders voted for into a controversy from hell.

    • John Vestal says:

      Well, there you have it…..millions of Christians can rest their weary and struggling minds, now, as the “true” Christian response has been determined for all. Praise be!

      #eyeroll

    • Three Jack says:

      ‘True Christian response’ from the letter; you’re gay! If we can’t fix your sexual impurity, get out of my house…a sentiment Sadie Fields can love!

      Totally within their right to do what they do, but if that represents ‘true Christianity’, I’m glad to not be one.

      • John Vestal says:

        I’ll be checking in with longtime friends and their son, whose Eagle Court of Honor we attended last month. Absolutely wonderful young man that we’ve known since before he was a Tiger with our youngest son.

        Sadly, however, they’re Hindus. Despite the fact that he really had no business even being allowed to join BSA……you know, being adherent to a “false” religion and damned to the lie-spewing pit of hell and everything…..I’m interested in learning his and his parents’ reaction to this vote.

        • Harry says:

          Study of Hindu texts actually makes one more open minded. Per one source, “Ancient Hindu law books, from the first century onward, categorize non-vaginal sex (ayoni) as impure. But penances prescribed for same-sex acts are very light compared to penances for some types of heterosexual misconduct, such as adultery and rape….Head priest of the Srirangam temple Raghavachariar said that same-sex partners must have been cross-sex partners in a former life. The sex may change, he said, but the soul retains its attachments; hence love impels them toward one another.”
          Anyway, the main problem for the BSA is not dealing with various sorts of confused adolescents but rather the introduction into the mix of homosexual scout leaders who will avail themselves of opportunity on events like camping trips. The same would be true if heterosexual male predators were running a girl scout troop. Certain immoral people take advantage, and thus the need for barriers to entry.

    • George Chidi says:

      Large … well, that’s a bit subjective. They claim 3 million US members. Not small in raw numbers, but also only about 0.9 percent of the US population. They represent about 10 percent of Pentacostals, and not much more than that.

      • Noway says:

        If they’re such a small organization, George, why do you care if they allow gays or not? Why does the left have such a burning desire to force gay membership on an organization deemed so small and seemingly insignificant?

        • George Chidi says:

          I don’t think I follow you. The Assemblies of God is a rather small organization, relative to the U.S. Christian community. And they’re perfectly free to withdraw into their own denominationally-oriented scouting alternative. The Royal Rangers predate the gay scouting argument, as I understand it.

          The difference here is that no one outside their church is telling them that they can’t be Boy Scouts. It’s one thing to choose not to join; another entirely to be told you can’t join.

    • George Dickel says:

      Funny, I would have guessed that something called the “Royal Rangers” would be the gayer alternative to scouting.

  16. Noway says:

    Question: Is the Boy Scouts a genuinely private organization? Does it get any public funding from State or Feds?

    • Eric The Younger says:

      Some units, mostly cub scout packs, are chartered at public schools. I think this is usually done through the PTA so it is technically private, but still kind of a gray area.

  17. Noway says:

    If it is a private organization does it not have the right to choose who can become a member? If that is the case why don’t gays start a competing organization with similar youth building characteristics?

    • George Chidi says:

      They are a private organization — sort of. The U.S. Supreme Court has said as much. (I find the special privileges accorded this private organization in law and custom a bit extraordinary, but still). They do have the right to choose who can become a member. The organization made this choice because the alternative threatens to label all scouts as homophobes in a society that is rapidly and deeply stigmatizing homophobia. Scouting has long been a lagging indicator of the state of mainstream social acceptance of an idea in America.

      Flat out: religious conservatives have lost the battle over sexual orientation in the culture war. Accept it, or be broken by it.

      • Noway says:

        And you are correct in saying that the opinions are changing in favor of gay acceptance. So, in theory, let the bigoted Scouts continue to live in their “cavemanish” world and watch them slowly die but nevertheless, leave them alone.

          • Noway says:

            I’ll be curious to see whether the levels of membership drop after this ruling. I think they will, dramatically. Folks should have just left them alone instead of beating them down over their original stance. Didn’t like their not accepting gays? Start your own, more inclusive, private organization. Score another victory for political correctness.

            • George Chidi says:

              As I mentioned before, the levels had been dropping precipitously before this decision, as parents supportive of gay rights (and a bit concerned about the pedophilia coverup) began withholding their children from the program. The Scouts are looking at throwing a floor under their losses — they were going to lose members either way.

              And, again, the attitude your describing is a defense of discrimination. Good people fight discrimination where they see it.

    • George Chidi says:

      Also, what you are arguing is some “separate but equal” crap akin to telling women who want to play at the Masters to get bent because Augusta doesn’t accept women members, or that the gentlemen’s clubs that were race restricted should remain so because blacks could just start their own clubs. Good luck with that.

      • Noway says:

        I’m still of the belief that if they aren’t taking public funds, operating on public property and doing nothing illegal, they can exclude whomever they want. And this included the Masters.

        • George Chidi says:

          Well, again … this was an internal decision brought on by growing public contempt for their former policy.

          That said, how many local police and fire departments sponsor scouting programs? How many military bases? Do other scouting programs operate under a federal charter? How many other private organizations are given surplus military equipment gratis? How many are given the right to operate on public property like schools, fire houses or police stations without fees? Are you aware that an Eagle Scout enlists in the Army at two ranks higher than a non-Boy Scout?

          Yeah. It’s a private organization. But still.

  18. Ron McClellan says:

    This is a sad day for Scouting. We’ve legitimized deviant behavior. We’ll now have “role models” telling boys who are at a very vulnerable age that it’s “okay to like boys . . .now go get in your tents and go to sleep.”

  19. “Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

    http://www.scouting.org/sitecore/content/MembershipStandards/Resolution/results.aspx

    • Harry says:

      I’ve read that homosexual adult leaders remain barred, but the same day the resolution was passed the Baltimore scout council and others immediately started lobbying to have that restriction removed also.

    • Ron McClellan says:

      On the rationale, of your last sentence, may as well let boys camp in the same tents as Girl Scouts. Everyone knows that the libido of a teen boy is easily trumped by a rule stating they can’t engage in sexual conduct. Oh wait a minute . . . maybe not.

      • It still takes two to tango. Let’s say there is a gay scout in a troop. Do you think that all the other guys are going to have sexual relations with him just because he’s gay? Also, do you think that gay people are all attracted to each other? I’m assuming you’re a male by your name. Are you attracted to every single female out there? Can we not trust you alone with someone of the opposite sex because of the obvious things that would happen? :-/

  20. Rick Day says:

    Not really sure why everyone is so concerned that churches will turn their holy and loving asses away from the Scouts who utilize their tax free properties.

    Frankly, I see this as a good thing. Like the DeMolay forced to meet in the Masonic Lodge, the scouts were always just treated as freeloading tenants, perhaps worthy of trolling for families to attend and *ahem* tithe.

    And like the African American DeMolay, when the day comes an organization’s door is open to all worthy boys, the group will stand or fall on it’s own merits and not some abstract christian principle. As it should

Comments are closed.