In October of last year, Girl Scouts of Colorado released a statement welcoming any female individual in kindergarten through 12th grade as members. GLAAD covered the event well, advocating that this was a moment that taught us how best to be transgender inclusive. Recently, Boy Scouts of America has been featured for its decision to remain steadfast in its anti-inclusionary policy that garnered the spotlight again after Scout den mother Jennifer Tyrrell was ousted for being openly gay.
According to Scout spokesperson Deron Smith, the decision was made after a review from an 11-member special committee formed in secret by Scout leaders in 2010. The official policy is cited in the New York Times as saying, "While the B.S.A. does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the B.S.A." Wayne Besen of Huffington Post wrote about why the decision is unsurprising in light of the large religious ties the BSA has (especially citing the money received from troop charters of the Mormon Church and Roman Catholic Church).
All religious ties aside, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of BSA in 2000 because of its status as a private organization. But with participation numbers reaching 2,723,869 individuals as of December 2011, and goals to "build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness", it's time we question the discriminatory status of an organization that so supremely impacts lives of youth of the United States.
In fact, looking further into the Scout Oath and the Scout Law, the decision banning participation of openly gay individuals seems at odds with the Scout's messages. According to Scout Law a Scout "respects those with ideas and customs other than his own" and "treats others as he wants to be treated." Nothing about banning participation from openly gay scouts, volunteers, or employees is in line with those ideals. And to watch an organization affirm to youth (in very large numbers) that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not only okay but is part of Scout Law, does a large disservice to participants and the communities they live in. It puts youth in an environment that teaches that intolerance is acceptable, and it can lead to bullying behavior outside of Scout activities.
A larger issue with the position espoused by the BSA is the way in which the policy lends itself to messy implementation. Reminiscent of the old U.S. military "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, BSA says that it won't ask up front what someone's sexual orientation is but will get rid of them if they find out they are "open or avowed homosexuals." This means that the ways the organization could become cognisant of someone's sexual orientation is through gossip channels, stereotyping, or other convoluted fashions. What this does is encourage scout members to police the masculinity of their fellow scouts in order to abide by the BSA's decision to not allow membership of openly gay individuals.
When masculinity is policed by your peers, the environment can become a stressful mess where boys and young men are given no real chance to explore and develop their emotional well-being for fear of being labeled as gay and being removed from the Boy Scouts. If BSA is going to succeed in their goals of guiding and educating the young men of the U.S., a good start would be to promote an environment where these men will feel safe expressing themselves.
Besen ended his Huffington Post piece on a hopeful note, writing that "changing demographics ensure that pressure against the BSA policy will only intensify." I can only hope that is the case. It would be a shame if the next generation of young men were schooled in good character by an organization that actively practices discrimination.