Feature

Boy Scouts: Caving in to homophobia?

The organization is sticking with its policy of excluding openly gay scouts and troop leaders.

The Boy Scouts of America deserves “a merit badge for bigotry,” said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Last week, the organization announced that it had decided, after a two-year confidential review, to stick with its policy of excluding openly gay scouts and troop leaders. The group claimed that it intended only to protect parents’ “right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family.” But the ban was clearly motivated by homophobia and the belief that all “homosexuals are dangerous perverts” who, given the chance, “will Pied Piper the boys of America into the gay life.” This is a betrayal of the Scouts’ founding principles, said Steven Cozza in The New York Times. The group’s self-declared mission “is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.” Yet this ban will worsen a climate in which many young gays and lesbians are already bullied, treated like outsiders, and—in extreme cases—driven to suicide.

This was not a moral decision, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, but a pragmatic one. The Boy Scouts draws considerable financial support “from religious organizations that take a dim view of homosexuality, especially the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches.” While less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is Mormon, 15 percent of Scouts are. If the Boy Scouts opened its doors to gays, it would lose thousands of meeting places and hundreds of thousands of members. There’s no question that the group is well within its rights to bar gays, said the Columbia Missourian. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that, as a private organization, the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to set its own admission policy. So gay activists should stop trying to hijack the movement’s mission—“a mission that does not include teaching young people about sex and sexual orientation.”

Special-interest groups “can’t—and shouldn’t—compel the Boy Scouts to accept gay people,” said Susan Nielsen in the Portland Oregonian. But the 102-year-old movement must recognize that by taking this decision, it has doomed itself to extinction. Over the past 40 years, its membership has fallen from 4.8 million to 2.7 million, and troops “are now scrambling for market share in a busier, more multicultural society.” But in a country that increasingly recognizes homosexuals as equals, this ban will only cause more and more parents and children to reject Scouting as an outdated artifact from our prejudiced past. “Then the Scouts’ trouble really begins.”

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