The Boy Scouts of America, one of the largest youth organizations in the country, has finally made the step of changing its discriminatory membership policy. Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts have refused entry to anyone who identifies as LGBT.
In 2010, the scouts started a review of its membership policy. The discrimination is derived from the phrase in the scout code that says scouts must be “morally straight”. Earlier this year, the scouts issued a statement saying their review was complete and the current discriminatory policy would stay in place.
This decision was met with widespread commendation from current and former scouts along with corporate interests. Intel, UPS, and Merck all withdrew funding from the Boy Scouts until their membership policies are changed.
Perhaps the lack of corporate funding spurred the scouts to finally act on its archaic membership policies.
Scout leaders, often parents or community volunteers, are also not allowed to identify as LGBT.
The policy change, however, is not unilateral. Even if the change comes into effect, it will not have the efficacy of changing the culture and perception of the Boy Scouts of America.
This policy does not change anything because it simply allows organizations who host scout groups to choose whether or not to accept LGBT individuals as scouts and leaders.
The problem is that the top three groups that sponsor Boy Scout troops are the LDS Church, Methodist Church, and Catholic Church, all groups that have traditionally suppressed LGBT rights. Three additional divisions of Christianity are also on the top ten list of groups that run scouting troops. Those figures are from scouting.org.
The new BSA policy essentially does nothing beyond a slight symbolic lessening of anti-LGBT tensions because the vast majority of churches and organizations that sponsor scouting troops do not believe in equal rights for the LGBT community. Also, consider the fact that a group like the Boy Scouts that has excluded the LGBT community for decades is not likely to retain many sponsors that support equal rights. Secular community groups and religious institutions who feel strongly about LGBT rights are likely to have disassociated with scouting a long time ago.
If the Boy Scouts do adopt a policy where organizations can choose for themselves whether or not to accept the LGBT community, maybe a few new civic organizations choose to join scouting. However, the majority of current members are unlikely to change their policies of discrimination.
As a former Boy Scout, I am torn between the benefits that scouting can provide to young men and the fact that those benefits are denied to “other” young men.
The Boy Scouts are a private organization and have a right to accept whatever members they want; the Supreme Court upheld this in the 2002 case Boy Scouts vs. Dale. However, this does not mean that we should accept that a group that provides so many unique benefits to young men gets to deny those benefits to certain men. Scouting builds outdoor skills, character skills, and allows young men to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout, which carries a certain amount of distinction in the college admissions process and on job applications.
My father, a former scoutmaster, made the decision this summer to end his financial contributions to the Boy Scouts until they make sweeping changes to their membership policy. Groups like the Inclusive Scouting Network seek to educate the public about the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts and the scouts fulfill their promise in their mission statement to ensure that “Every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.” You can find out more about the Inclusive Scouting Network at www.inclusivescouting.net.
When corporations decided to end some of their financial involvement with the Boy Scouts, the group gave the choice for local chapters to discriminate or not. If future public and financial pressure is put on the organization, then the Boy Scouts will have no choice but to implement fully inclusive membership policies that all local organizations must follow.