In Issue 10 of Flyer News this fall, I wrote a column arguing that my fellow Eagle Scouts and I are obligated to fight the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of excluding non-heterosexual individuals from participating in its programs.
Those of us who have publicly opposed this restriction were no doubt excited to learn this week that the BSA is “discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” according to the organization’s website.
The proposed change would remove the national ban and allow local chartering organizations to “select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” essentially allowing individual troops to decide for themselves whether or not to restrict their membership based on sexual orientation. A final decision is expected next week.
While I am optimistic about the BSA’s announcement that it might end this discriminatory policy at the national level, I take that optimism with at least a few grains of caution.
For starters, there’s always the possibility that next week’s meeting of the board of directors will turn up the wrong decision, though it’s unlikely. Turning back now, when on the brink of progress, would be PR suicide for an organization that is in desperate need of some positive press.
I’m more worried that it might be too late to mend the organization’s self-tarnished image and the pain it has inflicted on so many children and adults.
As an Eagle Scout, I can attest to the quality of the BSA’s programs – they helped to make me into the person I am today. That’s one of the main reasons why I was so angry about the organization’s continued discrimination against non-heterosexuals. It hurt to watch as an organization I cared about and believed in deprived these children of the same opportunities I had been given.
The BSA made a grievous error – and it was grievous – in excluding children and adults because of their sexual orientation. But, if the policy is changed, I believe that there is still no youth organization better poised to prepare boys and girls to become responsible members of society, assuming there is a heartfelt attempt to repair its broken bridges.
Unfortunately, it is probably too late for many people to forgive the BSA, and I don’t blame them. The cuts are deep, but I hope that the community will pull together to prevent the scars.
I hope that – should the policy be changed – the decision will re-energize, rather than pacify, those Eagle Scouts and other members of the national community who have fought hard for progress on this issue.
While some may see this as an attempt by the BSA to “punt the football” on the issue (not out of the question as far as I’m concerned), I’m trying to be optimistic. As I said in this column in Issue 10, change in an organization like the BSA comes from within. While it may not end discrimination in the BSA once and for all, the policy change will make it possible. It will finally empower those close to the organization – especially Eagle Scouts – to make changes at the local level.
I encourage Eagles and all former scouts to go back to their home troops and support them as they transition to inclusivity, or to start a conversation with them about discrimination if they have not yet been convinced.
The problem isn’t solved. There will still be troops that choose to deny some children of their rights to be scouts, but the change will make it better than the way it is now because we can finally do something about it.