As the Boy Scouts of America move towards finally loosening their organizational policy of forbidding openly gay scouts and leaders, Religious Right activists have been busy trying to top each other with their usual outraged hyperbole.
Despite the fact that the national board of the Scouts may well resort to half measures by allowing individual troops to decide whether or not to continue discriminating against gay people, the right is enraged by the possibility of any change at all.
Rick Santorum insists that if gay people are allowed to participate in scouting, it will lead to the death of the organization and that the national board of the Scouts will have “its fingerprints on the murder weapon.”Organizations like Liberty Counsel claimed that any change in policy will undermine BSA’s “religious liberty and First Amendment rights.” Rick Perry says the Scouts are under attack from the “forces of secularism.” Anti-gay activist Matt Barber insists that Satan himself is behind the move.
For me at least, after years of debate, it’s utterly fitting that the last people fighting to keep anti-gay discrimination are the people least in touch with reality.
That’s because, in addition to being deeply offensive, BSA’s policy has always struck me as profoundly stupid. Maybe it’s just my own experience, but who did they think was joining the Scouts? In my troop, at least, it wasn’t just the “normal” kids. It was those of us who were a little… off. A little too awkward. A little too hyper. A little too helpful. A little too queer. In short, it was the kind of kid who grows up to be interesting, committed, successful and, none too rarely, gay.
To my mind, that’s not an accident, that’s the essence of scouting. Frankly, just about all of us fit into at least one of those categories when we’re 14 years old. The genius of the Boy Scouts is that despite the awkwardness and the acne, teenage boys are looking for values to adopt as their own, and Scouting provides them with a set of principles that will serve them well no matter where their lives take them.
Whether you’re wearing weird glasses or waaay too into seeing what happens when you put a Bic lighter in a campfire (both demographics well represented in scouting and the male teenage population at large), Boy Scouting can be an outlet and a path forward.
Regardless of its history of discrimination, it turns out that Scouting has equipped a growing cadre of gay men with the integrity to stand up for equality, and equipped our straight brothers with the loyalty to take a vocal role in the fight.
If the campaign to reform the Boy Scouts is any indication, scouting still has a legacy it can be proud of — activists willing to challenge the injustice and defend the values they believe in — and I suspect it has a long and productive future as well.
Allowing gay people into scouting won’t be the end of the organization by a long shot; gays have been there all along. The only thing that we’ll be getting rid of is an unjust policy that has survived long beyond its time. And when that finally happens, it’s clear that the Boy Scouts’ policy of discrimination will have been dismantled in no small part by scouts themselves demanding that the organization live up to the values it has taught for so long.