A Perspective on the Boy Scouts Ban on Gays
The Boy Scouts of America organization has recently come under a lot of scrutiny due to its harsh, but legitimately legal, policy of kicking out gay members. One incident in particular caused a lot of ruckus last year when an Eagle Scout (a scout of the highest rank) was stripped of his award due to his sexual orientation. The Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States and boasts over 2.7 million members. The organization was set to decide if it would lift the ban this month, but this decision has since been postponed until May due to the multitude of protests that have come about concerning the issue.
The BSA’s goal is to educate boys from ages eleven to eighteen in citizenship, self-reliance and character development through outdoorsmanship and community service. Often scouts organize community service projects, hike and camp in the wilderness and are generally thought of as respectful young men who make a difference in their towns. The Boy Scout Oath is as follows:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
The Boy Scouts do not explicitly say in this promise that they are anti-gay (and not everyone who is a member is anti-gay) but there seem to be some connotations of homophobia, which is not shocking considering this is an organization full of boys who grow up together. I don’t want to analyze this oath in a literary sense, but I have included it to show those who are not familiar with the Boy Scouts that God and religion are clearly important values within the organization, as well as being morally “straight.”
The Boy Scouts of America is a private Christian organization, and it technically has the right to kick out anyone who does not abide by the Christian values that are fundamental to the framework of the club. Therefore, the Boy Scouts do not technically have to follow discrimination laws due to their religious affiliation. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that this discrimination was legal free speech by a private organization. The BSA is heavily church sponsored, and often troops will open or close meetings with a Christian prayer. With church money flowing through its veins, the organization has to decide whether or not allowing gay scouts is the right thing to do.
The Boy Scouts have faced a lot of criticism both from inside and outside of the organization regarding this decision. Much of this tumult started in October of last year when an Eagle Scout was denied his badge because of his sexual preference. Because this scout did not fulfill his “Duty to God” he could not receive the honor that he had worked so hard to achieve. Does denying gay scouts their badges coincide with the Boyscouts’ values as an organization? I don’t believe it does. Nowhere in the Boy Scout oath does it say that Scouts must be open-minded or accepting. One’s duty to God comes before one’s duty to country, so it seems that the scouts are even more rooted in Christian principles than they appear to be on the outside. This fundamentalist Christian approach is important when it comes to discriminating twoards scouts based on their sexual orientation, although the organization does not ban members of other faiths from joining their ranks. This specific targeting of the LGBT community can definitely be seen as discrimination, although this bias is protected under the law.
As someone who was once a member of the Boy Scouts until the sixth grade when I realized that they were anti-gay, and as someone who self-identifies as gay (and also as an atheist), I think it is amazing that they are even thinking about lifting the policy of banishing gay scouts. I can only imagine the hardship that many scouts have faced and continue to face from being closeted due to the strict code of conduct within the organization. If scouts were allowed to be anything other than straight, it might increase membership, as more liberal people who did not believe in the organization might start to see that they actually teach children decent values.
Due to the vast divide between different religious faiths and sects, it is hard to say whether or not the Boy Scouts of America should change its view on members of the gay community. It seems, also, to be a vast cultural divide, much like the issue of gay marriage. The more conservative areas of the country definitely do not want scouts involving themselves in “immoral” practices, although many chapters in more liberal areas are more likely to welcome those of the LGBT community with open arms. Acceptance is never something that should be shied away from, and it would be a big step for the gay rights movement if this organization were to allow these kids, who already feel like outcasts, a place of solace. •