Boy Scouts of America has formally ended its ban on gay scouts. As of next January, the group’s bylaws will declare: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
This might seem an unambiguous gesture of tolerance by an organization that has adhered to an official ban on all gays since the 1990s. But while the Scouts will stop discriminating against gay youths, they have left intact a ban on gay adult Scout leaders.
What are gay scouts supposed to make of an organization that claims a newfound respect for their sexual identities, while rejecting their potential contributions as adult Scout leaders? Is there something time-sensitive about being gay?
Are they less-worthy candidates for leadership when they turn 18? Clearly, the Scouts operate on the discredited notion that having gay men around young boys inordinately exposes the boys to sexual exploitation.
Even with this half measure, the Scouts are defying cultural conservatives and religious supporters who prefer the status quo that denied gays official recognition. The argument is ostensibly moralistic: Gays are bad and can’t be redeemed unless they reject their “lifestyle.” There’s no room for compassion for gay scouts, young or old.
Most Americans have moved beyond this view. So it isn’t surprising that the Scouts have been forced to “evolve” on this front. They want to be socially relevant at a time when being gay is no longer considered a disease or a perversion.
The Scouts deserve credit for embracing the 20th century, but most Americans are already steeped in the ethics and morality of the 21st century. If anyone can figure out how the Scouts can rationally reconcile recognizing gay scouts with shunning gay scout leaders, a merit badge in convoluted logic is waiting.