Scouts in a changing America


I can’t help feeling sorry for boy scouts: they’re caught in the middle of something they probably don't understand. No matter how many badges they earn or how many ways they learn to survive in the wilderness, it’s humankind they will have to learn to live with daily. And Boy Scouts of America’s leadership is losing sight of this.

In the BSA’s ongoing saga concerning the sexual orientation of its members and leaders, the organization says it's considering changing its policy. Young gays would be allowed to join the Scouts, but gay adults would not.
The policy revision is based at least in part on a survey of its members: older members want to keep the organization’s ban against gays, while younger members think the ban should be abolished.

If the policy is approved by members at its national council meeting next month, the Scouts will enact a hybrid of the US military’s failed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Scouts would learn from the BSA that gay adults should be avoided, even feared. The 1950’s stereotype that depicts gay men as weak, untrustworthy, secretive, and predatory could be kept alive.

Scouts would learn a one-dimensional definition of masculinity and manhood. They may never learn how to accept friends and co-workers whose sexual orientation is different from theirs. Worse, they may not learn how to respect and care for the adult gay man who turns out to be a cousin, a brother, an uncle, a friend.

Those young gay scouts who are accepted into the BSA fold would learn that there is something wrong with growing into healthy gay men. They may have to be careful not to behave in ways that some might consider too feminine or too gay because that might arouse anxieties in other scouts.

And just as many LGBT organizations are trying to convey to young school-age gays that they can survive bullying and they don’t have to resort to harming themselves because “life gets better,” an iconic American organization would contradict that message.

The BSA is not just trying to preserve its organization with this new policy proposal; good people are trying to protect the safety of children entrusted in their care.

But scouts need to know that some gay men break the law just like some straight men, and society doesn’t make sweeping assumptions about a whole group of people based on the actions of a few.

It’s a blessing and a curse that scouts are growing up in a world of changing attitudes. But if we’re going to help all scouts mature into healthy, happy, and prosperous adults in the 21st century, we have to prepare them for a world that barely resembles the one their predecessors encountered.