Boy Scouts: Still wrong on LGBT rights

The gay-averse organization takes halting, condescending steps toward equality -- and fails yet again

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 22, 2013 6:55PM (EDT)

             (<a href=''>Anthony Berenyi</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)
(Anthony Berenyi via Shutterstock/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)

It's not really progress – or even compromise – if your gentle, glacial-paced attempts at moving into the 21st century reek of condescension and open up a whole big can of outright bigotry. So let's try this again, shall we, Boy Scouts?

The famously LGBT-averse organization has in recent months been taking awkward steps toward becoming more inclusive, thanks to a series of high-profile challenges and increasing pleas for greater tolerance within its ranks. In January, it announced it was "potentially discussing" changing its restrictions on gay members. Then, last month, it unveiled a new survey it's sending to its members that will feel them out on a few scenarios that "could happen if the Boy Scouts keeps or changes its policy" – scenarios that bear no small resemblance to recent high-profile stories involving gay Scouts and adult leaders who've been shut out because of their orientation. It was a peculiar move – one that had the appearance of progress but the suggestion that equality toward those oddly classified "open homosexuals" is something that can be dictated by the tastes of an organization's members.

Now, the Scouts are taking further dodgy steps to ease their restrictions on gay youth – while still conspicuously shutting out gay and lesbian adults. Over the weekend, they moved to end the ban on "openly gay Scouts but continuing to bar gay adults from serving as leaders." Well, thanks, gentlemen, but just curious -- what in hell are you thinking here?

For starters, even the National Review Online notes that such an "incoherent and unworkable" plan would open up all kinds of cans of worms. Does the organization stand by its assertion that "homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill"? Scouts often move on to other roles. Does it have a plan for openly gay youth who've been Scouts in good standing, and wish to become leaders when they turn 18?

Even more grotesquely, distinguishing between gay youth and adult leaders sends a clear message that gay adults are dangerous and predatory. It's a common and deeply offensive trope. In February, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council appeared on CNN to couch the debate in terms of "an issue of protecting the boys." And on Monday, the eternally absurd Washington Times  called the move for equality a "relentless campaign to inject sex and politics into Scouting."

LGBT rights aren't about injecting sex into anything. Sexual orientation and sex itself are not the same thing. Does the Boy Scouts assume straight people are injecting sex into their interactions with opposite sex children? Then no. Oh, and by the way, being a normal human being living fully in the world isn't "politics," either.

Writing in Time on Monday, Howard Bragman called the latest Boy Scouts gambit "a new low" for the organization, "reinforcing the scientifically incorrect and blatantly homophobic stereotype of adult gays and lesbian as pedophiliac predators." As University of California at Davis professor Gregory Herek explains, in terms so basic even a representative of the FRC could understand, "many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation," and "There is no inherent connection between an adult's sexual orientation and her or his propensity for endangering others." Pedophilia is not homosexuality. Jot it down and put it in a Post-it on your desktop if you need to.

Creaking open the door of Boy Scouts membership to youths while keeping it slammed shut to adults only serves to make the statement that gay men and women are somehow unfit to be around kids. It would also, if this is any incentive, be a pain in the neck to implement. A person's rights shouldn't be revoked when he reaches legal maturity. And for an organization that prides itself on its morals, that's a distressing example to set -- and a fiercely wrong idea to perpetuate.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Boy Scouts Family Research Council Lgbt Lgbt Rights Tony Perkins