The Boy Scouts of America just re-adopted the most unhealthy policy of its 103-year history, a rule which isolates gay and bisexual scouts, vilifies them in their teens as eventual criminals, teaches bigotry to all scouts, and hurts society in five specific ways.
During its annual meeting on May 23, 61% of the 1,232 National Council members who were present voted for a resolution that revised the 22-year-old rule about how gay and bisexual scouts start, continue, and end their memberships. Whereas the former policy denied or expelled all members who were gay or bisexual (but ignored all who were heterosexual or asexual), the new policy admits all members equally, without regard to sexual orientation — but only until age 18. At age 18, heterosexual and asexual scouts can opt to become adult leaders (volunteers or employees), but gay and bisexual scouts are banned for the rest of their lives.
This lifetime ban hurts younger boys, teens, all of scouting, and society in 5 ways.
1. BSA unfairly dooms all gay and bisexual scouts.
The moment that any gay or bisexual scout reaches age 18, BSA bans him for life from any participation, both as a volunteer and as an employee. There are no exceptions; even the highest-ranked achievers get banned. BSA President Wayne Perry admits that there’s no scientific evidence to justify the rule. In a 62-page brief recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, this abject absence of scientific evidence was documented by the overwhelming majority of U.S. health professionals. The rule arises only out of a vile prejudice based on ignorance, fear, and a superstition that LGBT people are defective, sick, incurable, and evil.
2. BSA policy hurts the very scouts it aims to help.
Most children become aware of their sexual orientation at some point, so most gay or bisexual scouts make that discovery during their scouting years (ages 7 through 21). But from that moment forward, they face the endless, dark knowledge that in their late teens, regardless of their achievements, the BSA bans them for the rest of their lives. Of the 2.6 million current scouts, roughly 200,000 boys are — or will be — gay or bisexual. Each one of those boys will spend much of his youth years knowing that his own troop, along with 1,600 other troops, have pre-labeled him — and every other gay or bisexual Scout — as an inevitable, incurable monster. There’s no basis for this false presumption, and it is psychologically damaging for these kids to grow up knowing that they are the only scouts who are always expelled, are never readmitted, and are assumed to be dangerous.
3. BSA teaches prejudice to all scouts.
BSA’s policy teaches every scout that all LGBT people aged 18 and over should be feared and avoided, and considered lower than criminals (BSA accepts even convicts who served prison time, but it bans gays, bisexuals, and lesbians). BSA officials have never found any justification for their policy, and they excuse it only with vague mumbling about “standards” and “beliefs” and “religion” — the very same words once used to defend slavery and racial segregation.
4. BSA’s ban ignores medical science.
About 70% of Scout troop sponsors are faith-based organizations. Most of those sponsors (37% are Mormon, 10% Methodist, 8% Catholic) still teach the religious superstition that among the five sexual orientations (heterosexual, asexual, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual) the first two are holy virtues, while the last three are curable illnesses. Most also preach that people can switch sexual orientations through a better mix of hobbies, sports, attire, grooming, and prayer. But this is junk science, for which there is no peer-reviewed, scientific proof. This “ex-gay” therapy is unaccredited, the treatments aren’t government regulated, the salesmen have no medical degrees, the practitioners aren’t licensed, the clinics can’t get medical malpractice insurance, the products are consumer frauds, and every mainstream professional health organization warns that such efforts are harmful, dangerous, and too often lead to suicide. For children and teens, such products are already being outlawed in three states (California, New Jersey, New York). Nevertheless, many of scouting’s religious sponsors still sell these cures, and BSA’s ban on LGBT adults is part of their sales pitch.
5. BSA prejudice floods into society at large.
The BSA mission is to turn youth into responsible citizens, but by teaching institutionalized prejudice toward LGBT people, BSA defeats its own goal. A prime example of how prejudice degrades citizenship is that when GOP officials re-wrote their 2012-2015 Republican Party Platform, they vowed to keep banning gay and bisexual youth from scouting, and to keep banning LGBT adults from volunteering and employment. All such prejudice, even when excused, euphemized, or institutionalized, is still raw bigotry. BSA is still teaching that bigotry to future generations.
It harms gay and bisexual scouts to teach them that they all will become evil monsters. It hurts other scouts to remind them of the bigoted policy based on ignorance, superstition, fear, and hatred. It hurts kids outside of scouting to learn that BSA bans all LGBT adults for no scientific reason. It hurts families when parents are banned from contributing to their own children’s activities. And all of scouting and society are hurt when each one million volunteers recruited requires rejecting 77,000 qualified applicants — including Eagle Scouts — just because they were banned for life.
One amazing bright spot does emerge from a stark division within the scouting community: Most older adults want to discriminate against LGBT people, but most Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Sea Scouts, and Venturers oppose such discrimination. So, it looks like the Boy Scouts themselves will have to teach their adult leaders why the kind of discrimination which is increasingly unlawful in much of civil society also violates the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. For starters, they can point to the Girl Scouts, whose enlightened membership policies are years ahead of those of the Boy Scouts.
The BSA’s homophobia is unhealthy for everyone, inside and outside of scouting. It benefits no one. It teaches irrational bias toward all LGBT people, of all ages, everywhere. It is in effect right now. BSA officials have vowed not to change it.
In living up to the Scout Law, gay and bisexual Boy Scouts must be far more “loyal, helpful, kind, and brave” than everyone else, because — for them — fairness in scouting ends at age 18.
Ned Flaherty is a Projects Manager at Marriage Equality USA. In this article he represents himself. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts.