When I was a kid, I was in Camp Fire and spent many happy years learning skills in camping, outdoor cooking, knot tying, crafts, and group projects. Two of my now-adult daughters were in Girl Scouts for a few years, while their older sister enjoyed Model United Nations throughout high school and college. No one asked about their sexual orientation, and we never inquired about their adult leaders’ sexual orientation. These organizations have the good sense to realize that sexual orientation has nothing to do with one’s character, values, or ability to participate in or lead activities.
There is only one instance in which sexual orientation is relevant, and that is when being forced to hide a non-heterosexual orientation conflicts with the organization’s expectation that participants and leaders be honest and to be their best selves. You can’t be honest when you have to hide who you are. And you can’t be your best self when people drum into you their truth, which is that their is something about you that is unacceptable.
Which brings me to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization that has a real problem with non-heterosexuals. Boys can’t be scouts if they disclose that they are gay; adult leaders cannot lead if they disclose that they are gay or lesbian. This is a shame because scouting has been a tremendous experience for countless boys and young men, as well as their adult leaders. It builds skills, fosters personal and group responsibility, and it strengthens friendships.
I understand why the Scouts would prefer that this issue simply go away, but that’s not going to happen. The fight for gay and lesbian rights is arguably the civil rights battle of our times. Moreover, the Boy Scouts is running a grave risk of permanently damaging its reputation not only with PR blunders but by being “on the wrong side of history.” — Howard Bragman
The many good things about scouting are being over-shadowed by the fact that BSA has historically and very publicly prohibited gay scouts and leaders. It was only after much pressure that BSA took a circuitous route to an upcoming vote on whether to permit gay scouts while continuing to ban gay and lesbian adult leaders.
Before we cheer small victories, let’s remember that those gay boys and teens will always be second-class scouts. In order to disclose their orientation, they must be brave enough to do so within an organization that says, “We’ll let you in if we have to, but your kind isn’t welcome once you grow up.” The vote will also perpetuate the message to heterosexual boys that their orientation is the best, i.e., that it is normal, and being gay is abnormal and wrong. That message can have disastrous results.
I found two interesting articles about the issue this morning, and I invite you to read them. The first article is from the New York Times. The second is by Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, who speaks to the mess the BSA made of this who issue from a communications standpoint. Read Bragman’s entire piece here.
Social, educational, and skill-building organizations can help guide young people through both good times and bad. These groups have an opportunity to build the skills needed to be productive, happy, healthy and responsible adults. If you’re a parent, please carefully consider the organizations that your children join, and the messages your children will get about respect for others, the intrinsic value of all people, and how to appreciate diversity.