Boy Scouts Refute Claims of Homophobia
1 September 2000 By Stentor Danielson
Ever since June 29, 2000, the Boy Scouts of America have been paying dearly for bringing shame on what was one of the most respected youth organizations in the nation. On that day, the Supreme Court upheld a New Jersey troopís decision to ban James Dale from the organization because he is gay. Never mind that the Scouts, who are chartered by Congress and receive substantial funding and other benefits from local governments, are not precisely a private organization. Never mind that Dale was a model leader in and out of troop functions. Never mind that homophobia is anathema to the principles that I learned as a Scout. The Scouts made their choice, and now former Scouting supporters are whipping themselves into a righteous rage to make them pay dearly. But in their haste to condemn an exceedingly un-Scoutlike decision, backers of the organization are forgetting that Boy Scouting is more than a club for heterosexuals.
Under pressure from antidiscrimination groups, and rightly appalled by the Boy Scout National Councilís stance, municipalities and private groups across the nation have been withdrawing their support from the Scouts. Chicago, San Fransisco and San Jose have banned the group from public parks and other facilities. Companies like Chase Manhattan have withdrawn millions of dollars in funding. And Connecticut is considering making all public lands off-limits for Scout use.
I too was furious when I heard about the Dale case, and I was reaching for my rarely-touched bag of expletives when I read about the final decision. But I also smiled proudly when I heard last week that my younger brother was elected Senior Patrol Leader -- the highest youth position -- in the troop of which I was once a member. And I hope to be at the Court of Honor a few years down the road when he receives his Eagle rank.
It may seem odd that I retain such a high estimation for an organization that has made me ashamed to be a member. But I refuse to let one ill-fated court case erase nine years of nothing but positive memories and the hope that future generations of boys can share in the same kind of experience.
Morality has become such a buzzword in our society that candidates both Democratic and Republican have been throwing it around as part of their vision for America (darn it, I knew that whatever I wrote would somehow wind up being related to the election). Setting aside one instance of narrow minded interpretation, the Scout code is an outline for boys to work to become the sort of men that America desperately needs.
In the Scout Oath, in addition to the infamous "morally clean" passage, a Scout promises to "help other people at all times" and "do my duty to God [be that Jesus, Allah, Sri Krishna, Mother Earth, etc. -- Scouting principles are inclusive of any faith] and my country." These are admirable goals, and growing to attain them is central to the success of the Boy Scouts.
In my experience, these principles were never applied in a close-minded way. Indeed, my shock at Daleís expulsion arose from the fact that I had not once in my Scouting career heard homosexuality mentioned, much less condemned. The morality of the Boy Scouts is one of responsibility and respect toward others -- as modeled in the slogan "do a good turn daily" -- not the intrusive and judgmental philosophy the Dale case suggests.
I am not so right wing as to suggest that a strong moral code is a cure for all of societyís woes, or that a good dose of Scouting will turn around any bad seed. But I canít imagine that I am the only one of the organizationís six million members who found the experience beneficial.
It is important to remember whom the decisions of Chicago, Chase Manhattan and others are hurting. True, the restrictions may bring shame and a trickle-up punishment to the misguided officials who expelled Dale. But first and foremost they are hurting the Scouts who would benefit from the learning and support the Scouts offer. Much to their credit, many of these Scouts are standing up to a policy they know runs against what the Scouts stand for -- helping boys become better citizens. A group called Scouting for All has taken up allowing gay Scouts as its mission, while many local councils are seeking exemptions from the policy of homophobia. Withdrawing support from the Scouts in retaliation for the Dale decision weakens the very people who agree with the former sponsors.
If private sponsors and municipalities continue to try to out-conscience each other in rejecting the Scouts, the boys of today will become casualties to a power struggle with the National Council. I would hope that these groupsí commitment to youth is not so shallow as to allow that.
A better strategy would be for those concerned by the anti-gay policy to petition the National Council to end it, while enthusiastically supporting the larger mission of Scouting and particularly those groups such as Scouting for All which do not subscribe to the supposed morality that got Dale expelled.
The Boy Scouts of America has brought shame on itself. It does not need to be weakened further by overreacting to a policy clearly not central to, or endorsed by, the whole organization.
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