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As expected, on May 24, 2013, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America voted to end its longstanding ban on gay scouts while retaining its ban on adult leaders and employees. Some people have hailed the move as an important first step. More likely, it is a cynical public relations ploy that will probably not work. The only thing to celebrate is the chagrin the move to admit openly gay scouts has caused bigots.
The National Council approved a resolution that said no youth may be denied membership "on the basis of sexual orientation alone." More than 60% of the 1400 volunteer members voted in favor of the resolution, which had been urged by the top national leaders of the organization.
The resolution was vehemently opposed by conservative parents and volunteers and the usual suspects, such as hate groups like the Family Research Council, religious organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention, and assorted bigots. Many of the anti-gay figures, including Texas Governor Rick Perry and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, have issued statements of deep disappointment at the outcome of the vote. The loathsome Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the hate-group American Family Association, said the BSA should be renamed the Boy Sodomizers of America.
Indeed, the main reason to celebrate the new policy is the delicious distress it has caused bigots.
The Council was not permitted to vote on a resolution to remove the ban on gay adult leaders and volunteers.
As Ari Ezra Waldman observed at Towleroad, the new policy actually is worse than the old one. "Allowing gay scouts seems like a step forward," Waldman writes. "But the exclusive focus on gay youth proves that this 'step forward' is anything but a good thing. In fact, it's the worst possible result and shows the Scouts' true anti-gay colors. Gay kids are being let into the Boy Scouts not because the Scouts recognize the inherent equality of all American youth, but rather to more directly implement the organization's anti-gay dogma."
Waldman contends that "The Boy Scouts plan to include gay youth not because they accept their sexuality, but because they see it as something to train out of them." The continued ban on gay scout leaders, Waldman adds, "reinforces the Scout message that homosexuality is wrong: The Scouts are saying that, as a child, you don't know who or what you are, so we will help you find yourself; as an adult, your choice to be gay, in violation of morality and God, makes you a negative influence on children."
Certainly, the ban on gay adult volunteers and leaders sends the strong message that gay people are dangerous to children. This message is strongly denounced by the New York Times editorial board, which declared that "The Boy Scouts organization--by tolerating a loathsome belief, pressed by religious activists, that equates homosexuality with deviance--has committed itself to rejecting good, dedicated leaders. It should understand that scouting's mission does not have to dovetail with right-wing agendas and bigotry. The scout movement was built a century ago simply upon interests 'universal among boys'--outdoor skills and adventure--and on values of citizenship and decency. It's a shame the Boy Scouts have allowed bigotry to tarnish this tradition."
The dilemma the BSA leadership faced was how to staunch its hemorrhaging in membership and donations without completely alienating the conservative religious groups that sponsor most of its troops. It was much more interested in crafting a public relations coup that would stop the negative publicity and reassure potential donors than it was in doing the right thing.
Ironically, this cynical ploy will probably hurt the organization more than help it. Although the BSA will now tout that scouting is open to all boys, its policy that discriminates against gay adult volunteers and employees tells an altogether different story.
Surely, the foundations and other donors who have ended their association with the Boy Scouts because of their discriminatory policies will not find the new policy any less discriminatory than the old one.
The new policy may help avoid the bad publicity the organization received when someone like Ryan Andresen was denied an Eagle Scout badge after completing all the requirements for it. But it will not end the scandal caused by firing openly gay employees or denying a lesbian mother like Jennifer Tyrrell the opportunity to lead her children's troop.
The Boy Scouts' new policy will not end the controversy over their discriminatory practices nor will it make them relevant. Until the organization ends its bigotry, they will be defined by it.
The news video below reports on the new policy.