Walter Beck looks at the path to the recent vote by the Boy Scouts of America leadership on the issue of allowing gay scouts into the ranks, and how its compromise is not a solution but a stop-gap.
Poster Boy: Pascal Tessier, openly gay Boy Scout, with family (Click images to enlarge)
This story should have been over before I even started writing it. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the BSA, as a private organization, had the Constitutional right to keep out whomever they wished.
But thirteen years is a long time for an organization, and politics change. In the years between the Supreme Court decision and the National vote that occurred on May 23rd, American society became increasingly more tolerant of the GLBTQ community: the Supreme Court overturned all remaining state sodomy laws in 2003; the military repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010; and starting in 2004, twelve states and the Nation’s capital recognized marriage equality.
There was also a shift in society as the Movement started gaining serious momentum and people started openly questioning the BSA’s hardline stance against “known or avowed homosexuals” (as their official policy read). It started small, with individual units making stances that were officially opposed to the then-current policy; then it grew to a point where entire councils were in open rebellion, such as a council in Minnesota, which stated that all were welcome regardless of what the official National policy said.
In the summer of 2012, National tried to hold the dam by issuing a press release.
The BSA policy is: ‘While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA. Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics. The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.
The turning point started in the fall of 2012, after the failed attempt to change the membership policy on the National level. That’s when corporate sponsors began leaving in droves: companies such UPS, Intel, Levi Strauss, CVS Pharmacies, and Hewlett Packard started pulling their money from the organization.
That’s when I knew it was getting serious. National can ignore individual units and even ignore individual councils, but they can’t ignore corporate sponsors. This is the big leagues and what they say is true once you reach the National level, “Money talks and bullshit walks”.
National began considering a change in policy and in fact, a vote was to take place in February. I began calling old friends, trying to see what the score was and eventually contacted an old camp buddy who was working in Ohio. He seemed excited and assured me we had the votes zipped up and before Spring came, we would finally have equality in Scouting.
But it wasn’t meant to be as on the day the vote was expected, National announced that they needed more time and the vote was pushed to May.
As we neared that day in May, I began calling my old buddies again, sure that somebody would know the score and could give me the inside dirty details of what was going down.
After several phone calls, I finally reached an insider at the Gaylord Texan Hotel where the National meeting was in Dallas. We knew each other pretty well when I was still a camp counselor, and he agreed to be my source in Texas, only if I didn’t use his name. He began sending me updates, texting frantically about when the vote was and how things were rolling down there.
But my insider wasn’t the only one who demanded anonymity. Getting viewpoints on this proved to be hard work. Guys who normally have just as a big mouth as I do were silent, crippled with fear that they would lose their jobs or positions if the vote fell the wrong way. Most of them were local heavies: area directors, organizational bigwigs, local Troop leaders; and while they may have been willing to express their opinions privately (or even semi-publicly) on Facebook, once I mentioned I was on assignment and working on an article, they clammed up, not willing to risk the backlash if the vote swung the wrong way.
I heard “No comment” numerous times in the pursuit of this story.
But not all were silent.
Pinkus, an old buddy from my Ransburg days, had this to say.
“As somebody who has been around more than a few members who technically shouldn’t qualify for scouting, but yet are good scouts, I don’t agree with the national policy. Maybe I’ve just naive; but I feel in places like Ransburg and organizations like Firecrafter, nobody really cares about the requirements. Also, like most people, all you are really hurting in the long run are the GLBT and non-believing Scouts; preventing them from getting a better appreciation of nature; stopping a young man from getting introduced to a hobby he will continue his entire life; and robbing him of friendships that aren’t based on athletic ability, where your parents live, or what school you attend.
“If the membership policy is adjusted, I hope that the super religious members of the organization branch of to another group, like happened with the creation of the Heritage Scouts after Girl Scouts allowed Lesbian members years ago.
“Also, in my opinion, Scouting is essentially a mass secular organization, with smaller religious groups taking part. For there are some troops, like mine, who do almost no religious activities at all. Nobody really even cared if you went to Scouts Own on Sundays during campouts. However, there are other troops which who are much more religious. That being said, nobody looks down upon an Eagle from 132, compared to an Eagle from super Catholic troop. The only really religious aspects aren’t too different than our country in general: Pledge of Allegiance is the same; ‘Duty to God’ in Scout Oath, ‘In God We Trust’ on money.
“If the membership policy isn’t reversed, I have seriously contemplated not going to Ransburg this summer to take pictures. It will be harder to tell people, ‘Oh no, my little group of the BSA doesn’t care, that is just the Mormons.’ I’m hoping it doesn’t come to this, since I’ve been a part of the organization for more than 20 years at this point.”
The Mormons are an interesting point: for many years, they had been the stalwarts of the organization, refusing to budge on this issue and threatening to pull their money if the organization ever changed their membership policy. But in late April, National announced a compromise that would allow gay youth members, but still keep the ban on gay adult leaders. The Mormon bankrollers in Utah gave their blessing to the compromise.
Others called upon the BSA to practice what they preached, such as my buddy Thompson from Camp Krietenstein. “The BSA tries to teach young men to become role models and exemplary citizens of our communities, nation, and world, but policies of exclusion of large demographic groups such as sexuality or religion runs counter to that goal. If the BSA wants to prove that they practice what they preach, they will open their doors to young men (and women, in the case of Venture Scout) of all sexual identities and religions (or lack thereof).”
Others seemed apprehensive about letting their own children in the organization if this discrimination continued, with Jack Hoskinson stating, “I’m an eagle scout from Troop 761 in California. I loved being a Scout, going to summer camps, doing Philmont, and most of my closest friends were scouts with me. If I had a son I don’t think I would want him to participate in scouting unless this policy changes.”
Even my poetry buddies were getting in on the action, with noted Terre Haute poet Brian Morton telling me, “I was a Scout for many years (until I was disqualified on religious grounds for a temporary bout of agnosticism). My kids were Cub Scouts for a few years, until 2012 when I became too embarrassed of the Scouts I once loved, and we didn’t renew them for 2013.”
It was around 6:01 PM when my man in Dallas sent me the results: the compromise had passed with 61% of the vote, meaning that starting January 1st, 2014, the Boy Scouts of America will accept all youth members regardless of sexual orientation. He wired me the press release, which reads:
For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.
Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.
Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history, the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.
This policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.
The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.
While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America’s youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.
The power brokers, check writers, and other assorted gold loops had spoken: the policy would change, and kids would no longer be barred from the gates of Scouting because of their sexual orientation. But I don’t think this is the end of the story, despite National’s claims of “there are no plans for further review on this matter.”
What are they going to do when the kid who is gay earns his Eagle and turns 18? Are they just going to tell him, “Well you reached the peak, you’re an Eagle Scout, congratulations, now get the hell out of here, you’re no longer welcome”? Would those in the National Office in Texas have the nerve to spout such naked viciousness to their potential future leaders? Would they sweep them back under the rug?
By the new official policy, it seems they would, but I don’t think any of them would personally have the nerve to say such a thing to an Eagle Scout’s face.
The backlash began shortly after the vote was made official, with numerous hard right-wingers taking to cyberspace to vent their frustrations. Noted Republican loon and Texas governor Rick Perry stated in an official press release,
The Boy Scouts of America has been built upon the values of faith and family for more than 100 years and today’s decision contradicts generations of tradition in the name of political correctness. While I will always cherish my time as a scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision.
– Rick Perry
“Porno Pete” LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality said,
[It’s a] sad day for the Boy Scouts. Sad day for America: formerly ‘morally straight’ organization votes to allow openly homosexual members.
– Pete LaBarbera
Matt Barber from the Liberty Council got all weepy with his post:
Boy Scouts of America: Born February 8, 1910. Died, May 23, 2013.
– Matt Barber
Of course, the most outrageous public statement from the crazy right came from American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer, who said on his radio show,
BSA now stands for Boy Sodomizers of America, because that’s what will happen. Mark my words.
– Bryan Fischer
But is it all hot air from the opposition? Maybe not, as the group On My Honor, is threatening to secede from the BSA in reaction to the vote, as their grand high poobah John Stemberger said in an official statement.
Despite this setback, we will look to the future. I am pleased to announce that OnMyHonor.Net along with other likeminded organizations, parents and BSA members, are announcing a coalition meeting that will take place next month in Louisville, Kentucky. There we will discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys. While the meeting will be private, your voice is very important to us and will be represented there. We will host and facilitate a national coalition meeting of former BSA parents and other youth leaders who wish to return to truly timeless values that once made the BSA great. We welcome your comments as we develop our plans. Please share your thoughts with us at Contact@OnMyHonor.Net
Personally, I’d email them and tell them good riddance, the BSA can do without folk like them anyway.
National has bought themselves some time, no doubt about it; they reached a compromise they think will make both sides happy. But how much time have they bought? Five years? Ten years? Maybe even less than that. With marriage equality poised to become the law of the land and an increasingly accepting society, this new policy will prove to be nothing but a starting point, a stalling technique to keep the dragon’s breath off the backs of National.
It seems I’m not the only one who thinks this isn’t the end of the story. My buddy down in Texas shot me a message later on in the evening of May 23rd, saying, “I look forward to you becoming a Scoutmaster one day and being on my camp staff.”
I spoke with a camp director near home, who demanded to be referred to as “Director X”. He said, “A lot of people think that they did it for the money … but in reality 85% of our funds come from individuals … 10% from corporations and 5% from grants. Emotions are high right now it will take time to settle down, but we will make it through. A lot of the professionals I have talked to like the change, but know we have a long road ahead of us.”
My old buddy from Indiana State, Mike Miller, was the most militant in his views. “I feel like this decision was akin to the Normandy landings in WWII – it wasn’t the total solution to the problem, but it was the toehold we need to fight through to victory. So to anyone who is bemoaning the fact that gay leaders still aren’t allowed… it’s not an issue of ‘if’ as much as ‘when.’”
I’ll keep my own campfire glowing until that “when” comes.