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December 03, 2016
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Becoming men of good character

A man who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent can very likely be called a man of good character, a man of integrity. Chances are he may have learned these ideals in the Boy Scouts. These qualities, which a scout strives to embody, comprise the Scout Law. With the Scout Oath, the youth further pledges to “do my best to do my duty to God and my country... to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) states plainly and unambiguously that their mission is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Now, a major ethical and moral question faces the national Boy Scouts organization over whether to change its policy banning gay youth as members. (This ban became official policy in the early 1990s, and before that, in the 1980s, gay adult leaders were banned as being unfitting role models.)

Today, May 23, as this issue of The River Reporter is delivered to subscribers and newsstands, approximately 1,400 voting members of BSA’s National Council will decide on the following resolution: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” The proposed policy change does not extend to scout leaders, who will still be banned, though the internal logic of this compromise seems problematic to us.

Practically speaking, BSA is in a tough position, which any scout will tell you calls for bravery. Whichever way the vote goes, however, it may cost the organization members and/or sponsors. Seven out of 10 sponsoring groups are faith-based, and while some have said they could accept the policy change; others say they cannot. On the other hand, there are those who say that having a national policy on sexuality forces good principled people from Scouting. In fact, BSA already has lost 25% of its members since 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled BSA had the legal right as a private organization to determine with whom to associate.

Thinking practically, BSA recently conducted its own internal survey, as well as a nationwide poll. There was little difference in the results. Teen scouts and their parents indicated they reject discrimination against gays, while adult volunteers and officials over 50 want to keep the ban. The tide of history appears to be turning to the side of acceptance.

Practical considerations aside, however, ethical arguments have overshadowed the discussion, with some of the most personal statements for change coming from Scouts themselves—both straight and gay—including some who publicly resigned from the BSA.

Here are some samplings from their resignation letters, which can be found online:

“Boy Scouts taught me to be brave and honorable… I cannot be part of an organization that discriminates.”

“The organization which I believe guided me into becoming the man I am today, has practices that go against the very principles I took from it.”

“When something is unethical, you should stand up and say something.”

“Scouting has taught me to honor my conscience.”

“Being morally straight means standing up for equal rights and inclusion, not bigotry.”

[For one of several sites, see: boingboing.net/2012/07/23/eagle-scouts-stand-up-to-the-b.html]

The truth is that there have always been gay Scouts. Until now, even if they were Scouts from an early age and had learned and lived by Scouting’s values, once a boy’s emerging sexual feelings told him he was gay, he has had choose either to keep his sexual preference a secret, or to admit them openly and be forced to resign. If the newly proposed policy passes, however, with its stipulation that “any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual… is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” then these Scouts will have different option, namely, to continue to be a part of the Scouting community and uphold its ideals.

This finally brings us to what we see as the key question: If a boy or a man behaves with integrity and honor, what bearing does his sexuality have on his character?

It will be very unfortunate if at the end of the day, the BSA’s national council has decided to keep its ban on gay youth. Straight youth who then choose to remain in the scouts will have learned that it’s okay to exclude people based on their sexual orientation.