Critics of Boy Scout policy should follow Scouters’ lead

Editorial: QNotes Editor Matt Comer ponders this week's potential for major changes at the Boy Scouts of America

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: February 4, 2013 in Editorial

Pressure continues to mount this week for the Boy Scouts of America as activists continue to push the national organization to drop its national ban on gay youth members and leaders. Last week, a spokesman for the organization said the group would consider a proposed policy abandoning the national policy in favor of local autonomy.

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”

Members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board will meet this week, beginning today, in Irving, Texas, a suburb outside of Dallas. It’s not clear if a vote on the matter could come before the board, but discussion at least is expected.

For me, this issue is more than a simple news blurb. At the age of 14, I was dismissed from my Scout troop in Winston-Salem, N.C., after coming out and starting a gay-straight alliance at my high school.

For countless other current and former gay Scouters like me, this news is a welcome advancement. Though we know the proposed policy isn’t perfect — it doesn’t address discrimination on the basis of religious belief and many local units won’t adopt policies of inclusion — we also know that this is momentous progress.

Former and current Scouters affected by this policy have been true and valiant heroes in this movement. And, there are many, from all my fellow Scouts involved with the Inclusive Scouting Network, who have worked for more than a decade on this issue, to new and strong voices and leaders like straight ally and Eagle Scout Zach Wahls.

Some of these new leaders in this movement for change will travel to Dallas today. Lesbian Ohio mother and booted Cub Scout leader Jennifer Tyrrell will join other former Scouters to deliver 1.4 million petitions to the Scouts’ national offices. Expected to join Tyrrell are openly gay Eagle Scout Will Oliver, who is protesting the National Geographic Channel’s new show “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?,” gay father and former Cub Scout leader Greg Bourke and Eric Andresen, father of a Ryan Andresen, a gay Boy Scout in California who was denied his Eagle Scout award because he is gay.

Other national groups are also getting into the action. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is running a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News today. The ad calls on the Boy Scouts’ leadership to end its discriminatory policies and adopt a national non-discrimination policy.

The Scouts’ proposed policy has taken on criticism from many in the national LGBT and progressive communities. Critics say the proposed policy change will leave discrimination an all-too-real possibility for many youth in local units.

“While the proposed change is a step in the right direction, we can’t pretend that passing the buck to the local level will eliminate anti-gay discrimination because it won’t,” HRC Communications Vice President Fred Sainz said in a release.

Obviously, no one, including me, disagrees. Yet, it is concerning that some critics have seemingly failed to recognize publicly and appreciate just how large a step the Scouts are considering making. Yes, it seems very incremental, but as I wrote in a separate commentary over the weekend: “[F]or an organization that has consistently, as recently as last July, upheld their anti-gay policies time and time again, this one small step backing away from discrimination is a milestone unlike any other — the first and only time the national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have signaled they are ready to accept openly gay boys and young men into the honored and storied tradition of American Scouting.”

Statements like those from HRC aren’t necessarily incorrect or inappropriate, but they do seem off message, especially considering the current stances of former and current Scouts actually affected by the policy whose tireless work over many years has made this day possible. It would be a shame to see such momentous forward progress come to a halt because some just simply asked for too much, too soon.

Critics like HRC and others should take a step back and let current and former Scouters take the wheel on this drive.

more: For a more in-depth exploration of the proposed Boy Scouts of America policy and its implications for change, read my longer commentary at my personal blog published this weekend.