The Republic of T.

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From Altar Boys to Boy Scouts, Pt. 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series From Altar Boys to Boy Scouts

It seemed too good to be true. But, as an Eagle Scout myself, I couldn’t help hoping it was true when I heard last week that the Boy Scouts of America might drop its national excluding days as scouts and scout leaders. Even punting the issue to local chapters, which was bandied about as a possibility, would have been a huge step for an organization that fought all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its discriminatory policy.

You Don’t Have to Be Straight To Be “Morally Straight”

For a while it seemed the court of public opinion might accomplish what the Supreme Court could not.

The momentum to change the policy seems to have started building at the local level. A California review board challenged the national organization by recommending that openly gay scout Ryan Andersen be awarded the top rank of Eagle. In true Eagle Scout form, Ryan Andersen did not give up when the national Eagle Review Board refused to approve his application for Eagle rank. He took his fight public, appearing on television with Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper (two gay people welcomed  into millions of American homes every day, via television) and receiving 460,000 signatures on a Change.org petition. Anderson won, when the California-based Mount Diablo-Silverado Council defied the national organization and approved his Eagle status.

Closer to home, it was a different story. The National Capital Area Council in charge of overseeing scouting programs in the Washington, DC, area threatened to kick Pack 442 in Cloverly, Maryland, out of scouting after the pack voted to adopt a non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation. Due to pressure from the council, Pack 442 was forced to remove the non-discrimination policy in order to keep its charter.

And in July of 2012, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed the discriminatory policy, and lost lots of corporate financial backing in the process.

In the wake of recent events, President Obama himself has urged the scouts to end the ban on gay members. (It’s worth noting that Obama resisted calls to resign as honorary president of the Boy Scouts after going public with his support of marriage equality, while stating his opposition to the discriminatory policy.)

In an interview with CBS, anchor Scott Pelley asked the president if he believed scouting should be open to gays.

“Yes,” Obama said simply.

Asked to elaborate, Obama – who last year said he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry – said gays and lesbians should be able to participate in “every institution” that others can.

“My attitude is … that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life,” he said.

The majority of Americans agree the president.

The Boy Scouts of America should drop its ban on openly gay members, American voters say 55 – 33 percent in a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

There is a large gender gap as women support gay scouts 61 – 27 percent, compared to 49 – 39 percent among men, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. White Catholics support gay scouts 63 – 25 percent. Among white Protestants, 44 percent say open up scouting and 41 percent say no. White evangelical Protestants oppose gay scouts 56 – 33 percent.

One troubling finding for Scouting in America is that 54 percent of voters say they were Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, while only 36 percent of voters, including 55 percent of former scouts, say they have children in Scouting.

The president and most Americans understand what I’ve come to understand since I was awarded Eagle rank: You don’t have to be straight to be “morally straight.”

In the time I was an active Boy Scout, I served as a Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and (briefly, before going off to college) Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. I was out by then, to myself and to most of my classmates at school. But not to the Scouts (even though I’m sure most of the guys in my troop knew). I knew what the official response would be. Plus, my Dad was the assistant scoutmaster, whom I once heard say “A boy who doesn’t want to be in scouting shouldn’tbe in scouting,” only to forbid me to quit when I told him I wanted to. (The cognitive dissonance was starting to become suffocating.)

For what it’s worth, I picked up some leadership experience during that time. It came in handy in college, when I was co-director of the LGBT student group, and when we successfully lobbied the University Council to pass a non-discrimination policy concerning sexual orientation for work and study at the university.

But the Boy Scouts and the National Eagle Scout Association probably don’t want to hear about that. They don’t want to hear, really, anything about the life I’ve manage to build for myself. (Which is a pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself.) I guess that’s because according to them, I can’t be queer and be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful , thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” It screws with their framing. So, I couldn’t be queer and be a scout.

(And because of their policy, it’s unlikely either of our sons will be a Boy Scout, for obvious reasons.)

But I was. And I am. An Eagle Scout even.

“Perversion Files” and Pedophiles

Now, it looks like the Boy Scouts are remaining true to their long history of discrimination, putting off the decision on changing its membership policy, thus remaining on the wrong side of history for now. That’s at least in part because churches have threatened to pull funding from the scouts if the organization backs away from the ban. Nearly 70% of scouting groups are chartered by churches and faith-based organizations, with the top five being the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Lutheran Church.

The Boy Scouts’ decision to put off a decision drew praise from right-wing organizations and individuals, who offered various reasons for supporting the ban. As usual, one of the worst came from Pat Robertson.

As the board of the Boy Scouts of America prepares to meet later this week to decide whether to drop its national banon gay leaders and scouts, Robertson wondered aloud if doing so would open the door to “predators” and “pedophiles.”

Speaking on the “700 Club,” Robertson said:

“The question is, are there predators as boy scouts, pedophiles that would come in as scoutmasters? And if they are, then of course parents wouldn’t want their sons being involved in the Boy Scouts, or their daughters in the Girl Scouts.”

“Our prayers are with them that they will do what they feel is right for them, not what the political [sic] correct crowd thinks is right for them,” he added.

Anti-gay activists have tried to play on parents fears, insinuating that children would be at risk of abuse if the Boy Scouts policy is rescinded. In response, nearly 100 experts in sex abuse prevention, social work, psychiatry, child advocacy, criminology and faith outreach have signed a letter refuting that myth.

Plus, having that discriminatory policy in place didn’t stop the Boy Scouts of America from having 2,000 reported cases of sex abuse.

No, the Boy Scouts abuse scandal had at least two major causes:

First, the Boy Scouts opposition to background checks left the door open to pedophiles (even though it remained firmly close to openly gay men).

Amid reports of widespread sexual abuse of children in the late 1980s, several leading youth organizations began conducting criminal background checks of volunteers and staff members.

Big Brothers Big Sisters ordered the checks for all volunteers starting in 1986. Boys and Girls Clubs of America recommended their use the same year.

One of the nation’s oldest and largest youth groups, however, was opposed — the Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting officials argued that background checks would cost too much, scare away volunteers and provide a false sense of security. They successfully lobbied to kill state legislation that would have mandated FBI fingerprint screening.

While touting their efforts to protect children, the Scouts for years resisted one of the most basic tools for preventing abuse. The result: The organization let in hundreds of men with criminal histories of child molestation, many of whom went on to abuse more children, according to a Times analysis of the Scouts’ confidential abuse files.

… Scouting did not require criminal background checks for all volunteers until 2008 — despite calls from parents and staff who said its vetting system didn’t work.

Second, instead of protecting the boys entrusted to its care and guidance, the Boy Scouts engaged in a massive cover-up of sex abuse, similar to the cover-up of abuse in the Catholic church.

Again and again, decade after decade, an array of authorities — police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scout leaders among them — quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children, a newly opened trove of confidential papers shows.

At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of Scouting, a pillar of 20th century America. But as detailed in 14,500 pages of secret “perversion files” released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, their maneuvers allowed sexual predators to go free while victims suffered in silence.

The files are a window on a much larger collection of documents the Boy Scouts of America began collecting soon after their founding in 1910. The files, kept at Boy Scout headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national Scout executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain details about proven molesters, but also unsubstantiated allegations.

The allegations stretch across the country and to military bases overseas, from a small town in the Adirondacks to downtown Los Angeles.

What did scouting leadership do with its massive “perversion files”? (The BSA’s shameful trove of “perversion files” is now available online, for those who can stomach reading through them.) Well, the Boy Scouts didn’t take the information to law enforcement, or use it to protect the boys in their care. But the Boy Scouts did use information in the files track boys and leaders who were “effeminate” or suspected of being gay— and, of course, to kick them out.

Yet the Boy Scouts think guys like Ryan Andersen and me are the problem.

So much for “Morally Straight.”

Series NavigationFrom Altar Boys To Boy Scouts, Pt. 1

One Comment

  1. This arcain policy is why my son is not a boy scout. We lucky to have a Camp Fire USA club in our area, which has promoted inclusion since it’s creation 103 years ago. (Yes, it was Camp Fire Girls, but in the 1970’s it became the co-ed Camp Fire USA.)

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