Sometime in May, the Boy Scouts of America will decide whether they will allow gays to be members, volunteer leaders, or be employed on the professional staff.
The decision may have more to do with funding than with any other policy.
Contributions from individuals, major corporations, and at least 50 United Way agencies stopped because of the Scouts’ anti-gay policy. Among corporations that have not made annual six-figure donations are Intel, Merck, CVS, Chase Manhattan Bank, Verizon, Google, UPS, and Levi Straus. Stephen Spielberg, an Eagle Scout, in protest of the policy against gays dropped off the national advisory council.
The national council was also losing funds because of a drop of about 22 percent in membership the past 13 years.
So, the Scouts sent out a trial balloon a few months ago that it was considering whether or not to remove its anti-gay policy, and allow local units to determine their own policies.
That led to a vicious backlash by the nation’s right-wing, with talk show commentators, media pundits and blowhards, conservative politicians, and equally conservative businessmen backing the Scouts’ right not to allow gays to become members. The right wing formed their own associations and threatened to pull their own funding if the Scouts allowed gay members, volunteer leaders, and professional staff.
Never willing to lead, the Scout executives decided there needed to be another reconsideration.”
The last “reconsideration” occurred in 1974 when the Scouts ended segregation—a few decades late.
In 1978, the national council issued a policy memorandum to deny gays membership or employment. By 1991, with the rise of the conservative movement in America, the Scouts issued a formal position statement that declared, “[H]omosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” The right wing picks “morally straight” as its justification for condemning gays in Scouting. The reality is that in 1910, when the Boy Scouts of America was formed, “straight” was not a synonym for heterosexual, but a word more closely associated with “righteous” or “honorable.”
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, by a 5–4 vote largely along political ideology lines, declared that as a private organization the Boy Scouts could discriminate because of the First Amendment rights to associate—or not associate—with anyone. [Boy Scouts v. Dale.]
Two years later, the national executive board passed a binding resolution opposing membership of gays, atheists, or agnostics.
About 70 percent of all Scout packs, troops, and posts are sponsored by churches or faith-based organizations. However, in one of the great ironies affecting the Scouts, most of those churches, citing fundamental Christian theology, condemn homosexuality but allow gays to be church members; most, however, do not allow gays to be ordained.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, both Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Barack Obama, baptized as a member of the United Church of Christ, spoke against the Scouts excluding gays from membership. The Mormons sponsor almost 38,000 units with about 430,000 boys, the largest faith-based sponsor in Scouting. The Mormons late last year, although still refusing to ordain gays, slightly modified its stance, and now claims, “The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.”
The United Methodist Church—which sponsors 364,000 Scouts—has no restrictions against gays as members or as ministers. The Roman Catholic Church, which sponsors about 274,000 Scouts, condemns homosexuality as both a divine and natural sin, but allows them to be church members. However, several religions, including the fundamental Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsors almost 4,000 units with about 108,000 boys, has threatened to drop out of the Scouting movement if the national council allows gays to be members.
Most Scout organizations in countries not controlled by autocratic fundamentalist leaders have no restrictions upon gays and lesbians becoming members. The 2.5 million member Girl Scouts have no restrictions against lesbians, bisexuals, or trans-sexuals becoming members or leaders, although the Catholic News Agency has attacked the Girl Scouts leadership for being “driven by a liberal ideology far out of step with the families and churches that support them.”
Gays are part of every business, trade, profession, and even the military. Only the most paranoid, homophobic, and ignorant see any problem. The U.S. military—first with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” partial acknowledgement and now with rules than ban discrimination against any gay soldier—found it could still meet the demands of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with gays serving side-by-side to straights. Of course, most of the world’s finest military forces, including Israel and England, found out decades ago that soldiers and officers, no matter their sexual orientation, would serve honorably.
One of those gay officers was an English lieutenant general who was a much-decorated combat veteran. His name is Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement.
Walter Brasch was an Eagle Scout with the silver palm, a brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow, and an assistant Explorer Post leader. An award-winning social issues journalist, Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an investigation into the health and environmental effects of fracking, and the collusion between energy companies and politicians.
Photo by Paul Lowry released under a Creative Commons license.