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At 19, the Boy Scouts of America expelled me for being gay. I was overwhelmed with sadness, grief and anger. Never before had I come face-to-face with institutional discrimination. A group that once taught me self-respect was now telling me that there is something wrong with who I am.
This week, under the guise of “progress,” the Boy Scouts’ National Council may endorse a compromise that allows gay youth to join the organization but continues to bar gay adults from participation in any way. But this is not progressive at all: it will continue to teach the 2.7 million youth members the same toxic message: being gay means you cannot fully participate in the scouting experience because there is something intrinsically wrong with who you are. A boy can go from celebrated Eagle Scout to immoral persona non grata overnight when he turns 18. This proposal is destructive to the mental well-being of Boy Scouts and may result in lifetime harm.
After my expulsion, a clear line was drawn: gays have no place in Scouting. Challenging a unanimous decision from New Jersey’s highest court, the Scouts appealed to the United States Supreme Court, pleading that homosexuality is incompatible with their values and investing untold millions in the battle. In a divided 5-4 ruling, they were granted a First Amendment shield to protect a distorted view of morality.
That was back in 2000, when American society remained divided on its views of gay people.
Thirteen years later, the U.S. has seen a dramatic shift toward acceptance of equal rights for gays—something even the Scouts’ non-gay members recognize. When polled in the nationwide Voice of Scouting survey, a clear majority of parents under 50 years old now opposed the Scouts’ anti-gay policies. Youth members between the ages of 16 and 18 years old also agreed overwhelmingly, stating the “current policy does not represent a core value of Scouting.”
So whose values are the Boy Scouts of America representing, if not their own?
Only adults in the Scouting community—such as paid executives—cling to outmoded bigotry to exclude gays from their ranks by 61 percent to 34 ercent. Should these voices be held up as the future of Scouting? Or are they the kind of obstinate, outdated autocrats to whom Thomas Jefferson referred when he said “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
In reaction to youth membership reduction by 1/4 and staggering financial losses in the 13 years since the Supreme Court decision, Boy Scout leadership cobbled together this convoluted policy that sends a patronizing and damning message to young people: homosexuality is a youthful indiscretion, once you are an adult you must disavow who you are to continue to accepted us.
Many well-intentioned people characterize this new policy as progress; sadly, this it is not the case. What the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America has proposed is a destructive and damaging policy that sends a hurtful message as young adults search for a place in the world.
Would it have been acceptable if the civil rights movement stopped after Brown v. Board of Ed, with newly integrated schools graduating children into a society that remained segregated in every other way? Of course not—which is why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed 10 years later to outlaw segregation in all other settings.
This showed us that equality cannot be doled out in fits and starts, and we must learn from that history: we cannot accept a half measure from the Boy Scouts of America. A recent ABC/Washington Post national poll demonstrated where the hearts and minds of Americans are: 56 percent said that the new policy of excluding gay adults is wrong. As a nation we have come too far to celebrate an organization and a policy that undermines the integrity and self-respect of our young people.
Until the Boy Scouts of America can support our children for who they are and who they will become, how can we expect anyone to support an organization that will ultimately betray them?