The Boy Scouts of America announced it is considering a retreat from its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members. But not so fast, says Eileen McNamara. It's not the bold move they want you to think it is. (AP)

Excuse me for not standing to salute at word this week that bigotry by the Boy Scouts of America might soon be optional.

The mandatory exclusion of homosexuals from scouting might disappear as soon as next week by vote of the organization’s executive board, but any local troop could still ban gay scouts and scoutmasters if embracing equality is deemed inconsistent with its “mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” according to Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America.

This is cause to break out the rainbow flags? Isn’t it more comparable to George Wallace, Ross Barnett and Lester Maddox magnanimously accepting integration but only on a state-by-state basis? No pressure Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia!

This is no more a step in the right direction than was “don’t ask, don’t tell” or civil unions. Those policies, hailed as progress 20 years ago, only institutionalized the denial of equal rights to gay people in the military and in marriage.

This is no more a step in the right direction than was “don’t ask, don’t tell” or civil unions. Those policies, hailed as progress 20 years ago, only institutionalized the denial of equal rights to gay people in the military and in marriage.

The culture, if not the Boy Scouts of America, knows that the time for incrementalism in gay rights is long past. A pair of USA Today/Gallup polls last month confirmed the findings of other recent surveys — support for gay rights is growing and growing fast. Among Americans 18 to 29 years old, 73 percent support same-sex marriage.

Do the Boy Scouts really think that generation is going to tolerate rank bigotry in a youth organization that purports to “build the future leaders of this country”?

Yes, the United States Supreme Court once upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to exclude homosexuals, but that 5-4 decision came down in 2000, three years before Massachusetts became the first of nine states and the District of Columbia to legalize gay marriage, and 11 years before the U.S. military rescinded the policy that forced gay people to lie about their sexual orientation in order to serve their county.

So, what’s really going on here? What has changed in the seven months since the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its commitment to discrimination as “absolutely the best policy” in a unanimous vote by an 11-member review panel that had studied the question for two years?

Did the organization really hear a call to conscience when President Obama declared in his second inaugural address that “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law”?

Did it finally take note that the Girl Scouts of America has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation for almost 25 years without the sky, or cookie sales, collapsing?

The answer sadly is closer to the latter than the former. This is about money. Since the Boy Scouts of America decided to continue to cast its lot with bigotry last summer, major sponsors have pulled their funding. Intel is gone. So is UPS. A campaign on is pressuring Verizon to walk away or make a mockery of its 100 percent approval rating by the Human Rights Campaign, the national gay rights organization.

Tony Perkins, the president of the increasingly irrelevant Family Research Council, calls this “bullying” by “homosexual activists” and urges the Boy Scouts to “stand firm.”

That strategy did not work for Governor George Wallace, standing in that schoolhouse door 50 years ago, blocking the entrance of black students into the University of Alabama. It won’t work today for those who stand, no matter how firmly, against a surging tide in this country for full and equal rights for gay children as well as gay adults.


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  • Twisk

    “Gay children”???????

    • Christopher Caggiano

      Yes, gay children. I knew I was gay well before the age of 18, as do many gay men and women. And if you define “children” as being under the age of 18, then yes there are gay children. Signed, Someone Who Had the Balls to Use His Own Name.

      • Twisk

        World English Dictionarychild (tʃaɪld)
        — n , pl children 1. a.a boy or girl between birth and puberty.

      • Jessica Rae Leland

        I knew I liked both boys and girls in a romantic way when I was twelve.

    • Futo Buddy

      what about gay babies?

      • Michael Fitzpatrick

        Why is it that you can always be depended on for a bizarre comment or a fallacious argument, Futo?

        • Futo Buddy

          just answer the question or don’t

          • Discit

            I think there was genuine disbelief that this was a serious question. Seriously though, I think that would be like telling a baby they’re straight. Their concern is love and affection in a whole different context. I didn’t have any sexual inclinations or questions personally until I was way past being a baby and think it would have been wrong to label me already.

          • StevenHB

            And what, exactly, is a “gay baby” and how would one identify one?

          • Futo Buddy

            it was just an old MAD tv or maybe in living color skit about a pregant woman who was anticipating a gay baby. i guess my meme was too obscure

          • StevenHB

            Then Michael Fitzpatrick’s and Discit’s comments were accurate: you weren’t being serious.

  • jane

    I definitely see your point and partially agree, though in a council that already has an inclusive policy I think it does pave the way for more transparency from all participants, including those who are gay. I think it allows our same-sex married friends to join and continue creating change from the inside out. Not everyone will want to be part of this organization, it still has problems, but I do think it’s a step in the right direction. Not the destination, but a step.

  • Steve S

    I am an Eagle Scout and have been
    against their ban from the beginning. Boy Scouts has a unique way to
    handle this which is what they should have done from the start. Each
    unit must have a sponsoring organization and that organization can
    add limits to the unit membership. For example, the LDS Church is
    very active in Boy Scouts and limits its unit membership to members
    of the LDS Church.

    Organizations that feel, incorrectly in my
    opinion, that gays are mentally ill or something like that would be
    able to limit their membership. Several fundamentalist religious
    organizations have doctrine against gays. If it was a blanket lifting
    of the restriction, many of these organizations would no longer
    sponsor units.

    I know that Boy Scouts has had problems
    over the 12th point of the Scout Law, a scout is reverent because it
    require a basic belief or religion. Religion is a choice but sexual
    orientation is not.

    Scouting has been an important part of
    my life. It is one of the best ways to learn leadership I know of.
    With this change I may become active again.

  • Rob F.

    You are ignoring the fact that over 50% of Boy Scout troops are run by religious organizations. You could never force a church sponsored entity to accept something against their beliefs without violating their freedom of religion. You have to respect everyone’s rights, not just those of Homosexuals. If you forced every troop to accept gays, the churches would be forced to leave and scouting would collapse.

    • Michael Fitzpatrick

      While I understand your point Rob, the simple fact of the matter is that no one has a right to discriminate. If church X believes that blacks are amoral and should not be allowed to participate, and they do so under the guise of “religion,” is that acceptable?

      If the churches left, communities that wanted accounting for their children would of course form new packs and councils in the churches absence. My Boy Scout troop was not affiliated with any church and I believe that civic organizations and community groups would pick up slack.

      If churches wish to discriminate, then they ought to be marginalized. Human rights trump the right of religious discrimination in my book.

      • fordag

        It’s not true that “no one has a right to discriminate.” We all have the right to discriminate. We choose our friends and our associates based on our personal beliefs and views. We form intimate relationships with only the people we want to. So yes, everyone has the right to discriminate.

        What about the freedom of association? While our Bill of Rights protects for us the freedom to assemble, it is often considered to be synonymous with the freedom of association. The right to gather and associate with those who have common beliefs and goals etc. Should the Veterans of Foreign Wars be required to allow people to join who have not served in our armed forces? That’s a form of discrimination, which I wholeheartedly support.

        So we need to find a balance between being able to freely choose who you associate with and discrimination. Not all discrimination is bad or even born our of ill will, some of it is just a personal choice, like those we make every day. There is no law saying we all have to like each other and hang out together.

        My question is, why would someone want to join an organization that does not welcome them? Other than to make a point or stir things up? I was a member of a gun club in my town, it was only a 5 minute drive from my home and I shot there several times a week. Then I learned they did not allow women to join, rather than fight them on an outdated and foolish policy I resigned my membership. Why continue to associate with a group of people whose views were in direct opposition to mine?

        The Boy Scouts do not have a monopoly on scouting. Why not form an organization that welcomes everyone you want to associate with. Perhaps one day that organization will out pace the Boy Scouts and become the dominant scouting organization for boys and girls.

        I was a Boy Scout, I enjoyed my time with them and I abided by the standards they set, when my beliefs changed I moved on. I don’t think forcing them to change will help anyone. Too often today people rush to strangle others with political correctness and the desire to make everyone feel welcome everywhere at the cost of making some feel unwelcome and unheard.

    • StevenHB

      What do you mean that they’re “run by” religious organizations? I know that many troups have meetings in religious institutions, but that doesn’t mean that they “run them.”

      Furthermore, the fact that discrimination and bias have religious support doesn’t make it right. Churches previously backed religious discrimination and slavery.

      It’s time for the churches to change.

      • Rob F.

        Boy Scout troops are funded by their chartered origination . Many churches or civic groups will not fund anything they believe to be against their beliefs, nor should they be expected to.

        • StevenHB

          Churches are free to teach whatever bigoted bullshit they want, you’re right. BSA should have the balls to tell churches teaching bigotry that BSA is unwilling to be bound by that bigotry.

          • Discit

            It would seem religions that actively taught blacks were worse than whites and did not deserve equal respect under law and funded legal drives to deny rights would be at risk for some of its tax breaks at least. I don’t know how the laws would really apply. It seems like personal bigotry is legal but institutionalized and federally subsidized discrimination not so cool anymore.

          • StevenHB

            The deleted message above was mine: I seem to have run afoul of the profanity rule: apparently we’re not allowed to use relatively mild profanity, even if it’s not hurled at someone as an insult (I find the rule to be insulting and nonsensical, but I’ll try to abide by BUR’s rules in BUR’s ballbark).

            I wrote something to the effective of:

            Yes, religious institutions are and should be allowed to espouse whatever bigoted nonsense (previously expressed using a profane word that provided alliteration) they want. BSA should have the testicular fortitude (don’t know if the semi-profanity previously here is permitted) to tell such institutions that BSA will not condone their bigotry by promulgating it further.

  • Andy Koenigsberg

    In my opinion, the problem is that national leadership continues to equate homosexuality with pedophilia despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

    Since the pedophilia scandals of the early 80’s BSA has had a pretty stringent policies and programs to prevent exploitation by sexual predators.

    I have been an active adult leader in Scouts for over 10 years and became an Eagle Scout in 1976. As a Unitarian Universalist and someone with gay relatives and co-workers, I have found the BSA’s anit-homosexual policy basically idiotic, but not unexpected from a national council dominated by fundamentalist Christians.
    I have had to balance my abhorence of this policy with what I and now my son, have gotten out of scouting and it still tips in favor of Scouting because boys get opportunities in Scouts they can get no where else while growing up.

    If religious sponsors of pack, troop, venture and explorer units will not tolerate the lifting of a ban against gay people, then yes, these units will have to find other sponsors. Frankly, I do not see that as a bad thing.
    Bottom line though – is I agree with Ms. McNamara, half measures out of the 1990’s will not cut it in the 21st century.

  • J__o__h__n

    Steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction. ENDA didn’t pass because it wasn’t perfect (excluded transgender) and now gays in the less civilized states still lack employment protection.

  • The Mean Guy

    I know why gay men want to take young boy scouts camping, but I disagree with it.

  • Lietuva

    Comparing LGBT issues to something akin to the Civil Rights Movement is difficult to support. One, either through hereditary or choice, feels then acts or doesn’t act on those feelings; while the other exists through hereditary of pigmentation and denied civic involvement. Each race has a wide range shades of skin color, physical features, social status, wealth, political power, traditions, etc.

    Each of the hundreds of millions within each race have virtually an unending list and combinations of tendencies to act, how they see life, and themselves. Some are violent, some innocuous, others are socially unacceptable and, at times, labeled criminal (with laws compelling and limiting social behavior), while other actions are socially acceptable. All of them engender a near-overwhelming desire to act, and must be controlled throughout our lives; others we outlive, only to run into another we didn’t know existed and must deal with. And, while some actions produce immediate or overtime hurt, virtually all actions seem to be viewed as ‘harmful’ to another.

    While I’m genetically ill-suited to Pole Vault I ought not rail against one earning a gold medal for his/her prowess. “Hurt” or “Harm” exists only when one is compelled to comply or support with another’s abiliity, tradition, tenant, and tendency. “Live and let live” is trite, but allows freedom to live and work, yet doesn’t shouldn’t equate to acceptance of an ability or style by the rest. Nor ought we compel fraternities to socialize as others may choose. Doing so contradicts our stand on neutrality and ‘fairness’.

    Each of the uncounted millions of us live with physiological, emotional, mental, and resulting social tendencies. One group may disagree with another, but ‘civil disagreement’ ought never be labeled as extreme. Therefore, while no one ought to be discriminated against to be able to live and work, no one ought to be compelled to embrace the tenant, tendency, nor socially acceptable actions of others.

    It is socially critical to avoid creating new bias in order to counter another. Not to do so negates civility and contradicts responsible efforts from all the uncounted sides of any one issue, and moves us all to “miss the point” of the discussion, i.e.

    Contrary to the writer’s assertion that the Boy Scouts exclusion to LGBT is based on bigotry, in reality it is based on the organization’s original and well known frame for existence. To turn from its ‘charter’ in order to embrace styles contrary to it, could be liken to asserting bigotry exists in any organization not will to comply with “one and only one” thought. A chilling “1984 Orwellian” idea.