For a blog about atheism, my discussion of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will not focus on the fact that atheists and agnostics who will not submit to a belief in God are not allowed in the organization. This is upsetting to me, but there is something bigger here that needs to be addressed. The recent Boy Scouts of America decision to ban GLBT members has made me more than a little bit skeptical of this organization’s value in our society. Worse still that this bigotry was upheld 5-4 in a 2000 Supreme Court case. For the record, I have never been molested by any scout leaders or gay men. As a boy, I belonged to this group and it never occurred to me that this organization could be so bigoted. My experience with the BSA was boring; so much so, in fact, which I opted to drop out of scouting when I was 15 after earning my Star badge. The thought of meeting in the basement of a church for the next 150 Mondays in a row seemed like a waste of time when I could be watching T.V. My dad was a leader in my troop and at one time was our troop’s scout master, so not going was not really an option for me. Looking back on my experience when I turned 18 (the deadline for reaching Eagle Scout), I almost wished that I had followed through to make it to Eagle Scout if only for the college scholarships I could have won. I felt this sense of a missed opportunity. I will remember my personal experience with the BSA as an overall positive experience. My interest in the environment was likely launched by my forays into the wilderness as a boy, something that I look back on now as a great opportunity to interact with the natural world.
But as an adult I’ve taken a very different view on the BSA now that they have chosen to uphold this ban on openly gay men and women. No matter how I may feel about my experience, I can’t defend an organization that would deny this experience to others because their sexual orientation. Perhaps most galling of all about this ruling is the language that this organization uses to justify their actions. According to the official language of the Boy Scouts policy, “While the B.S.A. does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction (emphasis added) to the mission of the B.S.A.” This is demeaning. For the last century, the mission of the BSA has been to instill certain values in young boys across the country, but along the way, they have accidently provided an ample training ground for pedophiles. According to the results of a two-year investigation by the Washington Times back in 1991 on the sexual misconduct of the BSA before their current child protection laws took place, “The Boy Scouts are a magnet for men who want to have sexual relations with children…Pedophiles join the Scouts for a simple reason: it’s where the boys are.”
We are assured, for instance, that the BSA website that adequate measures are being taken to ensure that boys who enter the program are protected from abuse at the hands of their scout leaders and scout masters with their Youth Protection Program (YPP). The organization reportedly monitors the behavior of suspected pedophiles within the organization and anyone they believe would pose a risk to young boys. Since the adoption of the YPP, the BSA claims that the issue of sexual abuse within the BSA has been adequately addressed. But the records of this program have been kept private; there is no way to confirm whether or not the actions taken by the BSA have been effective at eliminating or even curbing the sexual misconduct of their adult leaders. Recently, former scouts have filed law suits against the BSA with allegations of being sexually abused in your youth. In 2007 and again in 2010, the BSA was required to reveal files that the organization kept on “degenerates”, documents that have shown leaders who have been found guilty of molestation were allowed to remain within the organization and in some cases, continued to sexually abuse children after they had been caught.
I think that most importantly of all, I know someone from my troop who was and still is secretly gay. He went through most of the same experiences as I did, but whereas I dropped out he made it to Eagle Scout. He reached the pinnacle of what the Scouting experience should be and yet he spent in youth scared of what would happen if his values were to be called into question because of his sexual orientation. If he were to come out of the closet, his character would be denigrated and called into question by the leaders of our troop. There might even be a minor investigation into whether or not anyone got molested by him while he was in scouting. In a time when the U.S. military allows gay and lesbian men and women to serve openly, why is this organization fighting so hard to keep gays and lesbians out? So it’s one giant middle finger from the BSA to say that the mission of the BSA to make straight boys into upstanding young straight men takes precedent over the personal development of all boys who are worthy of donning a scout uniform.
And perhaps getting to crux of the matter that especially pisses me off is how this organization conflates being gay with the sexual misconduct of their adult leaders. While representatives of the BSA are quick to add that pedophilia and being gay are not related, the public should be aware that “they simply insist that gay men don’t make good role models.” When the BSA website proudly proclaims that it instills values in today’s youth, nowhere does it mention that homophobia is one of their most vaunted pillars of the organization. The most troubling part is that when this organization does become aware that one of their leaders is a sexual deviant, they seem more concerned with maintaining their own image by keeping those records private rather than keeping pedophiles and other sex offenders out of the organization. The leaders within the BSA are no role models; they openly discriminate against the GLBT community through their institutionalized policies. It’s about time that they step into 21st century society or start hitting the old dusty trail.