A Merit Badge for the Modern Era: Boys Scouts of America and Gay Rights

In another progressive victory lately, a favorite national institution may be amending its stance on the matter of gay rights. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are considering officially changing their stance on acceptance of gay and lesbian scouts and scout mentors. This amendment would, if effect, remove the official national ban based on sexual orientation and leave the decision up to the local chapters and organizations to decide upon.

This sounds relatively open minded, but it hasn’t always been the norm.

Since their founding in 1910, the principles of the BSA have included mentoring, healthy living, character building, and what they refer to as faith building. The ban on homosexuality is not explicitly listed in this explanation of doctrine, yet it seems to have been drawn from the idea that scouting is a “duty to God”. Their credo goes on the say that the organization is in no way trying to influence the religious beliefs of its members and that this doctrine is based upon all the world’s great religious traditions; it is from here that the decision to exclude gay and lesbian participants is drawn. As late as July of last year, a decision previously approved unanimously by an anonymous BSA leader council has held that this is “absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts”.

The new, progressive look of the BSA?

The new, progressive look of the BSA?

In defense of this apparently deeply important policy, many other leaders from the BSA have come out with shaky defenses and explanations. Deron Smith, national spokesperson for the Scouts has pointed out that the organization is widespread and is present in thousands of unique and diverse corners of the country, going on to say that there are a variety of beliefs held on this topic.

Additionally, BSA Chief Executive Bob Mazzuca has said that, “(The BSA) fully understand(s) that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

They keep chanting diversity…diversity…like it’s a truly representative mantra for them. But by actively and plainly excluding a large segment of people from their organization, they manage to discourage diversity and thereby encourage exclusion, both of people and of ideas.

Yet more justification for their currently held decision: the BSA has said it believes Scouting is not the right place for youngsters to be exposed to issues of sexual orientation. There are several problems with their stance, but for now I will stick to the most obvious one. Their creed and their principles are meant to achieve other ends, which would be endangered somehow by recognizing what is finally coming to be an accepted perspective on reality. By maintaining a ban on a particular sexual orientation based on the decision of the highest authority in the organization, however, they bring the matter of sexual orientation to the fore, when it could have well been completely excluded as irrelevant, because this information makes no difference in the culture or the function of the organization.

So, how to explain the possible change of heart in regard to this (thankfully) outdated stance? What are the origins of their seeming about-face? Could they be feeling the political impact of President Obama’s inaugural address? Or perhaps the social pressure from activist movements like Change.org? Or could it be something more base (and conservative) in nature, like the withdrawal of financial support given them by international corporations like Intel and UPS, as long as they maintain their policy of institutionalized exclusivity? While the hundreds of thousands of dollars they are losing in charitable funds from corporations who do not believe as the BSA believes is likely a pressing factor, I would like to hope—yes, I am using that four letter word—that this possible change comes from a place of greater moral awareness. Perhaps the Scout’s are coming to the same conclusion President Obama and much of the country had already reached: that gay people should share the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as straight, or any other, people.