It is hard to adequately describe my reaction to the new Boy Scouts of America membership proposal, released on April 19 by the group’s national executive committee. The executive leadership’s resolution, which must be voted on by the approximately 1,400-member national council in May, institutes a policy of non-discrimination for gay youth. “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” the proposed policy reads.
On one hand, the policy is a step forward. Gay Scouts will no longer be faced with dismissal from the iconic, more-than-century-old youth program simply because they identify as gay or bisexual. On the other, however, the proposed policy does nothing to address other areas of discrimination, such as that against gay young adults over the age of 18 and other adult leaders, as well as discrimination on the basis of religion.
The proposed policy also generates more questions than it does answers. What will happen to young people who come out in troops sponsored by conservative, anti-gay religious groups? What guarantees, policies or trainings will be implemented to protect gay and bisexual youth from harassment and bullying? What recourse will gay or bisexual youth have if they do, even after the policy’s adoption, face discrimination? What exactly happens to an openly gay youth on the day they turn 18?
Depending upon your perspective, the proposed new policy for gay youth members in the Boy Scouts of America is either one huge steaming pile of disappointment or a phenomenally-progressive step forward for gay youth. Perhaps, you, like me, fall somewhere in the middle.
The Boy Scouts were an integral part of my childhood, ultimately shaping who I am today. The lessons taught to me and countless millions of other American boys mold young men into leaders, servants and citizens. If this policy, however flawed, had been in place when I was a Scout, I would have been able to continue my advancement as a youth member and attain my Eagle Scout award. So, this very small step, if approved, is a win for youth in the near-term and much better than the alternative choice of doing nothing and leaving the current policy as is.
Ultimately, however, the proposed policy is severely lacking. It leaves many problems unaddressed, continues to perpetrate discrimination and continues to teach young people, upon turning 18, that they are unwanted and unworthy. The proposed policy is, simply put, a delaying tactic. Scout leaders themselves know this issue is not going away. Further action will be needed in the future, as indicated by the Boy Scouts’ own survey of its youth members aged 16-18, of whom a majority are opposed to the organization’s discriminatory membership practices and say it “does not represent a core value of Scouting.” Younger parents, too, are opposed, with the Scouts noting that views have “changed significantly in the past three years.” Those views will likely continue to evolve, just as the Boy Scouts must.
The Scouts have come one very small step closer to evolving with the rest of the nation on issues of LGBT equality and inclusion. If approved by the national council in May, the proposed policy will be a win for young people. But, it isn’t enough. The Scouts must do more to ensure they are living up to the very standards and ideals they claim to teach.
I do not like incremental social change. Never have. Never will. Incremental change doesn’t work, especially when the questions at hand have easy, commonsense answers. The only answer to the Scouts’ continued membership and leadership controversy is a national, comprehensive policy of non-discrimination. Equality, not discrimination, is a core value of Scouting. Their members know it and a growing number of parents know it. It’s time the Boy Scouts’ leaders choose to be brave and fulfill the promise they made in their first edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook, that “every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.”
For more information on the proposed policy, an in-depth analysis and continuing coverage of the issue, visit The Inclusive Scouting Network, of which I am a co-founder, at inclusivescouting.net. : :