Perhaps gays may soon be able to tie the knot. No, I’m not talking about the marriage equality laws blazing across the country and around the world. I’m referring to news that the Boy Scouts of America is considering a review of their discriminatory policy banning gays and lesbians from joining their organization.
But no sooner did the Scouts announce their plans than the usual bevy of righteous right wingers rise up in predictable horror at the thought that gays may soon be able to tie knots, light camp fires, and design pinewood derby cars too. How totally radical!
In response, the BSA buckled and has put off the vote until May. Meanwhile the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s leading advocacy group for advancing gay rights, obtained a copy of the BSA employment application that states that they do not hire “open or avowed homosexuals,” atheists or agnostics, but that “conviction of a crime is not an automatic bar to employment.”
So you can’t be gay, atheist or agnostic – but criminals are welcome! (The “don’t pray, don’t stay” policy.) I’m not sure how allowing criminals squares with the Boy Scout oath: “…to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
So who cares if you did time in Sing Sing, as long as you don’t sing sing any show tunes. Model car racing and marshmallow roasting are strictly the provenance of the heterosexual.
Not that the Scouts are the only organization practicing this discrimination. 29 states still legally permit employers to fire employees based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Yet, like the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the BSA’s banning days are numbered as they lose funding, corporate support, and public favor in an increasingly progressive world.
Over the last decade two very prominent episodes helped shed light on the absurdity of the Scouts’ ban. In the 1990s, James Dale, by every measure a scouting treasure, sued the organization over his expulsion, when after years of membership as a scout, and later a Scoutmaster, he became president of the Lesbian/Gay Student alliance at his Rutgers University campus and gave a quote to the student paper that revealed his orientation. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court which ultimately found the organization had a constitutional right to freedom of association and acted in legal bounds. Then last year, the ousting of beloved Cub Scout leader Jennifer Tyrell, who led her son’s Cub Scout pack, added to the group’s already tarnished image and its blatantly discriminatory and nonsensical practices.
With more than two-thirds of Scouting units affiliated with a religious denomination, no doubt most of the resistance to lifting the ban comes from religious quarters, though even there the issue isn’t a slam dunk. And the idea that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles, perpetuated by the religious-right, has been widely debunked by the mental health community.
So the tug-o-war continues. But if real-world progress is any guide, it will be this discriminatory and harmful ban that ends up in the muck where it belongs. And then just see how fabulous those pinewood derby cars are going to be!
Andy Golefty is an app-less wanderer, writing and living in New York City.Share