Scouts have a long way to go

May 30, 2013

Alessandro Tinonga explains why we have to keep up the pressure on the Boy Scouts of America to completely eliminate anti-LGBTI discrimination.

LAST WEEK, the Boy Scouts of America dropped its ban on gay youth, which has been in place for 103 years.

After months of discussions and inter-organizational surveys, the national leadership proposed amending its policies to state that "no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America [BSA] on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." By the end of last week, 1,400 voting members of the Scouts' National Council approved the new policy by a 60 percent margin.

However, the newly adopted policy "will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders." Translation: the Boy Scouts of America still bans LGBTI adults from the organization.

The continued discrimination against LGBTI means that the BSA is still an anti-gay organization. It is nonsensical for an organization that prides itself on promoting community service and morals to make a policy that says "it's wrong to discriminate a person because of their sexuality, until they turn 18."

This is not a step forward; at most, it's a half-turned heel.

Boy Scout Alex Derr campaigns for the organization to lift its anti-gay ban
Boy Scout Alex Derr campaigns for the organization to lift its anti-gay ban

To be clear, the BSA's recent decision is significant. It shows that the organization is starting to bend to the pressures of the LGBTI rights movement and the shifting attitudes of society.

Though the BSA is still the largest youth organization in the U.S., it has been struggling to keep up its numbers and reputation. Total youth membership in the organization has declined by 27 percent in the last 15 years. In the 1980s, the organization went through a series of sex abuse scandals, and last year, it was forced to release 20,000 pages of internal documentation of some 1,200 sex abuse cases that took place between 1965 and 1985. To curb the damage, the BSA has been trying to change their image.

THE PRESSURE to pass some sort of measure on their discriminatory policy definitely forced the BSA leadership to act. For years, many individuals and organizations, such as Scouts for Equality, have strongly advocated for an end to homophobia in the organization.

In 2012 alone, two high-profile cases of people affected by the BSA's anti-gay policy caused outrage. The first was Jennifer Tyrrell, who was the acting leader of her son's local Den and then banned from the organization when it was discovered that she is a lesbian. Then, Ryan Andresen was refused his Eagle Scout award, the organization's highest honor, after his scoutmaster learned that he is gay.

Online petitions for Tyrell and Adresen quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Andresen even got a guest appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (she also gave him a $20,000 scholarship). By the end of last year, several financial sponsors, including UPS, United Way, the Intel Foundation, and the Merck Company, dropped or postponed their funding for the Boy Scouts.

Despite the declaration made two years ago to not reassess its anti-gay policy, the BSA conducted several surveys on its membership about dropping the policy. According to the New York Times, the results "mirrored the country's changes and divisions over gay rights. They found that while a majority of adults involved with scouting supported the past policy of excluding gays, parents under the age of 50 and a majority of teenagers opposed it, according to a summary of the findings released Friday."

While the BSA leadership needed to reverse the bad press and outside pressure, they also didn't want to offend some of their biggest homophobic sponsors--the Mormon, Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. All three combined are responsible for enrolling a quarter of the BSA's membership. These churches stated that they may also abandon the Boy Scouts if it included gay members and adult leaders.

As a result, the BSA leadership proposed a position that tried to appease both sides. In the face of discrimination and bigotry, it is a cowardly proposal.

While there's satisfaction in seeing bigoted organizations like the Family Research Council and On My Honor fraught with despair over the recent decision, the fight must go on until there is full equality in the Boy Scouts of America.

It is very possible and likely that some Scouts and scout leaders will continue to bully and discriminate against LGBTI youth and adults. The new policy will still allow people Jennifer Tyrrell to be kicked out because of their sexual identity. Baring LGBTI adults into the Boy Scouts continues to legitimize the false and outrageous claims the such persons are a danger to children and youth.

It is also more likely that LGBTI within the BSA will feel empowered and emboldened to come out proudly. Those that do should be supported 100 percent. At the same time, people who support LGBTI rights should continue to pressure the Boy Scouts until it completes what it started. No tax breaks, subsidies or waivers until the BSA drop all its discriminatory policies.

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