John Stemberger, head of the conservative evangelical Florida Family Policy Council, told this morning's New York Times, "Allowing openly gay scouts will mean the blunt injection of hypersexuality and gay activism into a youth organization." Stemberger, who does not always invoke sexual imagery in his speech on the subject, has been mobilizing activists to "stand strong" against a measure that would allow gay boys to be Boy Scouts. His site, On My Honor, includes a Wall of Supporters: Photos of people who fought to the end to keep openly gay boys out.
Today, if we were to adopt similarly antagonistic terms -- which we shouldn't, but if we were to -- those people lost. As the president of the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) Wayne Perry wrote in an op-ed this morning, "At the BSA's National Annual Meeting today, the 1,400 voting members of our National Council will vote on a proposed resolution that would end the restriction on gay youth membership. That's the right decision for Boy Scouts."
Vote they did, in Grapevine, Texas. Before today, the group's policy was,"We do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals," but that is no longer. The resolution passed with 60 percent approval.
As Perry wrote going in, he supported the measure. He added, though, "The change to the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy is not the result of pressure from outside." That's unlikely, since the decision comes amid some of the most outspoken gay-rights lobbying in history, including a Supreme Court hearing in 2000.
It's okay -- good, progressive, even -- to hear and respond to outside pressure. Like when politicians talk about flip-flopping, as if changing to accommodate an evolving landscape is a negative thing, the BSA seems to revere notions of a value system that does adapt to feedback. Everybody benefits from feedback, and people appreciate when being heard them. Today the BSA recognized norms that are different from when the organization was founded in 1910 (and when the official anti-gay policy was signed in 1978).
Of course it's within their rights to limit membership as they see fit, but when a massive organization that professes values of a good, moral life but also distances itself from an already oppressed minority group -- one at higher risk for bullying, depression, and suicide -- it enters the realm of tangible public health concerns. BSA is a celebrity in the arena of morality. When it endorses ideals, they do not manifest in a vacuum.
With regard to seeing this as a half-measure, in that the BSA will still prohibit gay adult members, Stemberger said, "It was clear from our listening phase that changing adult standards would have conflicted with the majority of our partners, 70% of which are religious organizations, and would have disrupted our ability to deliver Scouting."
The BSA is totally self-empowered and considerate when they announce a progressive change, but when they announce continued discrimination it's because they're under the thumb of influences beyond their control. Though as Stemberger, who at least owns his stance, notes on his site, it will only be a matter of time before adoption of this policy leads to integration of gay adult leaders.
So, this essentially settled, we can soon go back to appreciating the BSA simply as a time-honored institution that teaches kids and young men about being good people in the real world. They still don't allow atheists, but as a religiously-affiliated organization, that's a separate issue. If anyone is concerned for the fate of the American boy or the moral landscape of the nation now, they can always look to how things have turned out for the American girl. Girl Scouts, which is supported more by corporations and foundations than religious organizations, has had progressive positions on LGBT issues for years.
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