Eagle Scout logo. Photo credit to meritbadge.org
The Boy Scouts just can't seem to please anyone. Upon lifting their ban on homosexual scouts, critics from both ends of the spectrum have found reasons for discontent.
After two years of heavy deliberation, the 1,400 delegate National Council voted in favor of a proposal that would amend Scout policy to allow the membership of gay boys. The vote was concluded in May, and just recently went into effect on New Year's Day. While extending inclusivity to young homosexuals, the measure left out adult leaders, who can still be expelled from the organization for being gay.
Members of the LGBTQ community have lauded the decision as an important first step toward ending discrimination in the century old American branch of the scouting movement. However, many still maintain that the discrimination will remain painfully real as long as any homosexual is barred from joining or volunteering. The resultant reaction is mixed; it is good what the National Council is doing, they say, but it is not ultimately satisfying.
Meanwhile, some members of the conservative community have argued that the Scouts are drifting away from their founding values. By allowing gay Scouts, they do not uphold the end of the Scout oath, which swears on the boy's honor to remain "morally straight". Thus, some churches across the country have withdrawn their support of local troops, resulting in them disbanding. Defections have not been uncommon. An entirely new organization has sprung up in response to the BSA resolution, called Trail Life, USA. They are essentially the same as the Boy Scouts, only with a far more rigid approach to membership qualifications. Found on their website, under Membership Standards, they state, "The basis for the program's ethical and moral standards is found in the Bible. In terms of sexual identification and behavior, we affirm that any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful before God and therefore inconsistent with the values and principles of the program."
As an Eagle Scout, I view the removal of the ban as a natural outgrowth of one of Scouting's key features-its inclusivity. The Cub Scout pack and the Boy Scout troop are safe havens for young boys who are trying to find themselves. Maybe they didn't make it onto a sports team. Maybe they just don't seem to fit in with their classmates and are eager to make friends. Or perhaps they want to branch out and learn skills that only Scouting can provide. Surviving a thunderstorm 10,000 feet up in the Big Horn Mountains comes to mind. Scouting is a necessary alternative, a counterculture of sorts. By barring gay boys from entering such a rich environment, the organization does them and itself a great injustice. Why should sexual orientation be a reason to deprive them of a lifetime of benefit?
The law may have changed, but the issue is far from over. To affect true, lasting change it is the culture that must be remedied. The same discriminatory mindset that kept gay youth out is still keeping out gay volunteers and leaders, along with the non-religious, who are argued to be unfit role models of Scouting's principles.
"Ultimately, it would be self-defeating for the Boy Scouts to forfeit the chance to spread Scouting skills and values among the population of people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise not religious", said USA Today's Tom Krattenmaker.
The Boy Scouts are a private organization. In the end, they have the right to exclude whatever group they want. But the question remains: Should they?