Twenty years have passed since Scouting chose to join the culture war and began a shameful period of telling gay teenagers they were the one kind of child unworthy of being a Scout.
In 1990, the Boy Scouts of America kicked out 19 year old James Dale (over the objections of the boys and adults in his community), and fought him all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to set their own membership standards.
Today they have taken the first step back on a path that leads to equality, respect and honor for all kids. The organization has voted to ban discrimination against gay kids, and compel all of nearly 100,000 local Scout units to be welcoming. This progress was brought in part by a remarkable group of young, straight Eagle Scouts lead by Zach Wahls and the incredible work of Scouts for Equality who recruited thousands more Eagle Scouts and nearly 2 million petitioners.
Nonetheless, this is a contrived compromise that kicks gay kids out when they turn 18 and become an adult. Doing that sends a ridiculous message to kids that Scouting will tolerate who they are, just not the person they “might” become.
I wrote a piece for Forbes in January when the BSA announced a possible change in policy, highlighting the terrible business decisions that Scouting had made, not just what I believed to be poor moral choices:
“The movement of Scouting continues to be one of the great opportunities for light and goodness in the world. But in my opinion, and one shared by millions of parents with kids who could benefit from Scouting, the corporation that administers Scouting in America lost its moral compass a long time ago.” — more from me in Forbes
The BSA released their own broad survey of current members: it was convincing that a majority of Scouting parents under the age of 50 favored non-discrimination, and revealed an even higher percentage of young parents in America that weren’t even considering Scouting for their kids. By and large, the voices to maintain the status quo were older Scout leaders hanging around the program long after their own kids had grown, and specific religious institutions using the supposedly non-sectarian Scouting as a tool (though even among churches, there was growing dissent).
At the time I argued the only sane and right policy change would be to let each of the local parents and chartering partners (tens of thousands of churches and civic groups) decide for themselves whether to accept gay kids and adults. With such deeply held passions, many on religious grounds by local partners, I believed the “local option” was the only way Scouting could escape the self-inflicted wound tearing away at the future of the organization.
Last month the BSA announced details of the only resolution they would allow to be put to a vote today: one that allowed gay kids to stay in Scouting across the country, but still banned gay adult leaders.
My first, visceral reaction was that it was an even worse scenario than kicking gay kids out of the program; that Scouting had set itself up as some sort of “conversion therapy camp”, expecting kids would “grow out of the gay”.
I saw this untenable compromise – no doubt hard fought within the organization, as further proof that the BSA was still lost in the wilderness.
But today I see a real opportunity for the BSA to emerge with an even better solution than the “local option” that I previously argued was the best we could expect. By banning discrimination against all gay kids in every local community, the organization is doing what’s morally right.
Following this vote by the membership, the National Executive Board should now move swiftly to allow parents and local chartering partners to choose the right adult leaders for their Scout units, gay or straight. Legally, practically and morally, this is an inevitable position the BSA will some day take, and it’s within the authority of the National Executive Board to make that decision soon.
I’ve always believed… and for generations so did the BSA, that parents should have the right to choose adult mentors for their own kids.
If a shrinking part of America thinks gay adults are inherently unsuitable role models, they’ll still have that right as parents. They just won’t have the right to deny the Scouting experience to any kid. And they shouldn’t have the right to deny other parents the choice of adults leaders for their own kids and communities.
Today was an important first step, and if it is soon followed by another step that allows local communities to set their own membership standards for adults, Scouting will have found its way back onto the trail.