More than a decade ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center stopped contributing to the Montgomery, Ala., United Way campaign because the organization chose to continue funding the Boy Scouts of America, despite its policy of banning LGBT people from its ranks.
Clearly, as a civil rights organization dedicated to the ideals of equality, we could not support such discrimination. We were not alone. Some United Way chapters across the country chose to drop the Boy Scouts as beneficiaries of their fundraising campaigns.
In the years since, we have seen more people and organizations take a stand against this discriminatory policy. Even two members of the Boy Scouts’ own board have voiced their opposition.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that an organization that has meant so much to millions of boys and young men and that has espoused the values of honesty, integrity and character is so reluctant to end a policy antithetical to our nation’s principles of equality. This was apparent when the organization chose to delay until May a vote to end this ban.
While the Boy Scouts of America has never engaged in the tactics of anti-gay hate groups by defaming or attacking the LGBT community directly, such well-publicized, discriminatory policies can have the effect of encouraging bigotry.
We see the impact of anti-LGBT bigotry in schools across the country, where bullying is rampant. It’s easy to understand why a child might engage in such behavior when he or she sees adults treat LGBT people as undeserving of basic rights. As adults, we must never forget that children learn by our example.
It would serve the Boy Scouts of America well to take a close look at the motives of some of the most vocal opponents of ending this ban. The spokesman for the American Family Association, an organization that is designated as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC, recently used the issue to demonize gay men as pedophiles.
“Male homosexuals offend against [male] children at roughly 10 times the rate that heterosexuals offend against young children,” Bryan Fischer said on his radio show. He later added: “From this day forward, there is not one loving father in America that ever, ever, ever ought to entrust his son to the Boy Scouts of America.”
Of course, allowing LGBT people to serve in leadership positions in the Boy Scouts will not endanger children. The American Psychological Association has stated unequivocally that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men.” The APA adds, “There is no scientific support for fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by their parents or their parents’ gay, lesbian or bisexual friends or acquaintances.”
And there is absolutely no reason to fear the prospect of a gay youth becoming a Boy Scout.
This ban is about more than Scouting. It’s about a major, well-respected American institution continuing to endorse the belief that LGBT people are second-class citizens. Many people will believe that if the Boy Scouts of America is excluding LGBT people, it must be OK.
This was apparent when the president of the Family Research Council appeared on CNN.
“Look, these folks … they are free to set up their own organization,” Tony Perkins said during the interview. “Why do they want to come in and change an organization that’s been around for over a hundred years?”
“Because it’s discriminatory,” CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien responded.
And more people are realizing this fact. They’re realizing that LGBT people aren’t some sinister threat bent on subverting this storied organization. They are mothers and fathers who want to be Scout leaders. They are youths who want the rich experience of Scouting. Quite simply, they only want the same rights and privileges as their fellow Americans.
It’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to ignore the demonizing lies of groups exploiting this issue and welcome LGBT Americans into their ranks.