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Boy Scouts voting on allowing open gay youth: A step that is just not far enough

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are having an overdue vote at a conference today and tomorrow.  They will be voting as to whether to allow openly gay youth to be in their troops across the country.  Previously the ruling was that each troop was able to make its own decision about whether to include or disclude openly gay youth.  Really Boy Scouts?  You need to hold a vote as to whether your organization should be inclusive?

Let’s be clear that this vote is not going to suddenly bring a flood of gay youth to the Boy Scouts.  There are already gay troops across the country.  However, they are currently silenced and not allowed to express who they are.  They are constantly learning from the BSA , perhaps an organization that they love, that they should be ashamed of who they are and that they are less valuable than the heterosexual troop members.  If they dare come out, they risk being kicked out of the troop and perhaps excluded from a group of friends they have had for years. 

I took a moment yesterday to peruse through the BSA website and looked over their motto and benefits of joining their organization.  As many people know their motto is ‘Be Prepared’ which could be pretty iconic for this matter.  They are preparing gay youth—they are preparing them to be told by other parts of society and individuals that their identities are less than and that their participation is something that can be voted on and decided by a majority of people. 

Several of the benefits that really stood out to me were: building self-confidence, promoting diversity, creating fellowship, and providing a positive place.  When we think of these benefits in terms of gay youth troop members, they are laughable.  The BSA cannot expect to build the self-confidence of a population who they are simultaneously trying to silence and exclude.  Those two actions are mutually exclusive.  In the same regards, members cannot truly learn the importance of diversity and fellowship if they are also learning that certain people can be cast out and that their membership can be voted on.

Another problem is that this vote only applies to gay troop members—not to troop leaders or employees.  Is this because BSA believes that eventually the gay youth will just ‘phase out’ of their homosexual identity?  Or do they truly not see the horrible messaging they are still propagating by having this policy?

One benefit that BSA purports that youth will learn is a ‘duty to God’ and have actually used this as a way to prohibit an open gay youth from achieving Eagle Scout status.  Many sects and reglions have embraced LGB/TQ individuals.  Therefore, this standpoint is from one specific religious interpretation.  Many LGB/TQ individuals consider religion a huge priority in their lives as well as another component to their overall identity.  Some struggle to come out because of the religious messaging they received and internalized. 

Troop members, gay or not, will still be learning that being gay is wrong because none of the adults in their lives are allowed to disclose.  They will learn that it still okay to oppress someone based on how they identify simply because you disagree with it.  They will be denied gay role models who can provide advice, influence development, and counterbalance the negative influences that the troop members are receiving.  It is critical for gay youth to see their lives reflected positively in their communities.

On top of the ethical and justice issues that are called into question by the fact that BSA has refused to change their policy in the past and that they have decided that voting on inclusion is the correct path, there are the simple logistics of the matter.  What does allowing openly gay troop members and excluding openly gay troop leaders and employees look like?  And, what’s the point?

If you read the comments (I strongly recommend against this regardless of the topic), you will see a lot of comments equating homosexuality to pedophilia.  One’s sexual identity has nothing to do with having risk factors to perpetrate sexual violence.  It is a horrible myth that is steeped in stereotypes, bigotry, intolerance, and hatred.  Unfortunately this is still an argument that is given time and space in the news and discussions about whether to allow openly gay adults to supervise troops and be employees at BSA offices.  This very unsettling study found that a couple major news sources, CNN and FoxNews, mentioned the concern of pedophilia when talking about allowing gay individuals into the organization.  While there is debate on how reputable these news sources are, it is disheartening to see them entertain an idea and stereotype that has been debunked by studies.

The majority of people who perpetrate, regardless o f the survivor’s age or gender, are heterosexual males.  Sexual violence is about power and control and taking advantage of the vulnerabilities another person may have.  It has nothing to do with sexual desire or attraction. 

Additionally, the BSA have been under huge scrutiny for the past few months in regards to covering up sexual abuse since as early as the 1940s, although it could have went on much earlier than that since the Boy Scouts were started in 1910.  The organization put up a huge resistance to turning over files on people who reportedly abused boys alleging that they were dealing with the issues internally.  Although eventually all materials were handed over and there is now a database that holds all the previously unpublished files.

Logistically, this policy does not make any sense and raises so many questions for me. 

If someone is openly gay as a troop member does that mean they can never lead a troop or work for the BSA?  If someone is openly gay as a troop member, does that mean that in order to become a troop leader or employee they have to move somewhere new where no one will know?  There are many individuals, including those who are gay, who enjoyed their time in the Boy Scouts and want to be able to give back.  Perhaps this is through volunteering or by gaining employment through the organization.  Either way, it will force people to silence and hiding again and to choose between an organization they love and a part of their identity.

At what point does a person transition from being allowed to be openly gay to not being allowed?  Is it a minor versus adult thing?  There are some troop members over the age of 18 who are still working towards achieving the esteemed Eagle Scout honor. 

As one can easily see from this poignantly written op-ed, it is not enough to be closeted at work or in the troop.  It applies to every section of one’s life.  Gay employees and troop leaders cannot afford neighbors or parents of the children finding out lest they report it to the Boy Scouts of America.  These individuals are constantly in fear of losing a position and title that they may greatly value having. 

While it is positive step to potentially allow openly gay youth into the program, it is only a small step and doesn’t fully address the needs of everyone who is part of the organization.  BSA should be pushed to become truly inclusive of its troop members, leaders, parents, and employees.



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Posted by stacey

Stacey formerly served BARCC as the coordinator for Community Awareness and Outreach. Prior to BARCC, she worked for the Navy as a sexual assault response coordinator and volunteered for the DC Rape Crisis Center. She got involved with anti-rape work during college and has enjoyed doing both direct services and educational work.

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