before he sets the Wayback Machine to 1994 and #retroactively changes history.
On Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) aggressively reaffirmed their commitment to keep their ban on both gay members and leadership. In a press release they said the policy "remains in the best interest of Scouting and that there will be no further action taken on the resolution." Rumors had circulated recently that the board may revisit the current policy via board vote next year.
The statement was at once surprising and, of course, not so much. Unsurprising because it was just a restatement of the current policy, one you'd expect by an organization whose hierarchy is heavy with Christian fundamentalists, Catholics and Mormons.
Still, there had been some cause for optimism, as in recent months, national Boy Scouts board members Ernst & Young's James Turley and AT&T's Randall Stephenson had spoken publicly to the press about their personal opposition and desire to work for change.
The BSA has been under rather intense pressure of late. In April, they suffered a rather public embarrassment when The James Beard Foundation Executive Director Susan Ungaro returned an award from the Boy Scouts saying "accepting the Distinguished Citizen Award implied I support their anti-gay policy, which I absolutely do not."
The ousting of a popular Scout Leader Jennifer Tyrrell has sparked a national media tour, where the Ohio mom has proven herself an excellent spokesperson for the movement. Undaunted by the announcement, Tyrrell delivered Change petition to BSA headquarters on Wednesday with over 300,000 signatories asking BSA to change their policy. Her request denied, tears in her eyes, she told the local NBC affiliate (video above), "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying until I'm included."
Having learned that the resolution to end its policy of discrimination actually stood a chance of working its way through the BSA's executive board, the BSA dropped the hammer, trying to crush this grassroots movement to help the Boy Scouts become more inclusive and accepting.Wahls, a former Eagle Scout, will attend the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Scouts at the National Order of the Arrow Conference July 30 through Aug. 4 "to rally current scouts and scout leaders to support an end to the antigay ban."
In their eyes, this issue is now resolved and the book is closed. Indeed, they've even stopped answering calls from Fox News.
Fact is, the movement to end the BSA’s antigay policy is ramping up, and is poised to be stronger than ever.
The BSA press release says:
This decision follows a nearly two-year-long examination, started in 2010, of the policy commissioned by the Chief Scout Executive and national president. Under their leadership, the BSA convened a special committee of volunteers and professional leaders to evaluate whether the policy continued to be in the best interest of the organization.This claim of an extensive secret two-year study and secret committee has been met with skepticism by many. Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith told Think Progress the secret committee's secret report would remain secret and never disclosed to the public. Nor would he name any of the 11 people reported to have served on the committee. David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement blog experienced similar stonewalling when he pressed the Boy Scouts for more information on the study.
Notorious homophobe, hate group leader and Romney campaign human resources consultant—American Family Association's Bryan Fischer—took to the airways on Wednesday to crow "the head of the Boy Scouts" had called him to assure him there'd be no change.
Bil Browning, writing at the Bilerico Project, is less diplomatic about expressing his skepticism about the secret two-year study and committee. He says: "I'm calling bullshit."
I don't believe they made a worthwhile effort to actually decide what's best for all children and everyone involved in scouting. They may have formed this "secret committee," but I'd posit they knew the outcome before they held their first meeting.The usual suspects cheered, like the
You don't take your need to discriminate all the way to the Supreme Court just to throw it out the window a few years later. They've dug themselves into this position and they're just fortifying their position as their opposition grows stronger. They're looking for a way to save face and are able to shrug off responsibility for their reprehensible actions by blaming a group of unnamed individuals for making the decision.
So proud that the BSA, a Christian based organization, didn't cave in! fb.me/1brtUEsZ4— 1milmoms (@1milmoms) July 17, 2012
The Moms of course, were the group that wanted JC Penney to fire Ellen Degeneres for being a lesbian. (Something Penney's probably knew when they hired her.)
But the declaration has not been met with much enthusiasm outside the religious right. The New York Times "Room for Debate" section now hosts seven response essays by people of note. Only the one penned by Bob Mazzuca and Wayne Perry of the Boy Scouts' executive council offers a defensive support for continuing the policy. The rest offer varying degrees of disappointment and condemnation.
My take? It's true, an animal is most dangerous when it is deeply wounded. And it does seem reasonably and entirely possible BSA recognized the public conversation was getting a little too heated, they sought to make a definitive statement to close out the subject.
But Wahls and others aren't taking it lying down, continuing to demand that the Boy Scouts of America allow the resolution to allow openly gay scouts and leaders to come to a vote at the next BSA convention, in May of 2013 (petition here).
(Continue reading below the fold.)
Why does it matter?
The question of the legality of BSA's policy was already asked and answered by the Supreme Court in the 2000 case, Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale.
Isn't it time to move on? Abandon the organization to the Christian fundamentalists, let BSA subsist indefinitely off those who are indifferent to or support their discrimination?
It's a fair question. And it's one that certainly crossed my mind during the battle to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." I wondered why so many of the gay and lesbian soldiers I met who had been so unfairly victimized by the military didn't just turn their backs on the whole mess? Moreover, many of them expressed a sincere interest in re-entering the service if they could.
It was a love of the culture that I couldn't easily grasp, although I did come to understand it. Perhaps because my bourgeois preconceptions of who military people were began to give way to a recognition that many were very smart, talented and, ultimately, idealists. They loved the organization and they wanted it to be better, and that included being a part of it.
And on this, I can relate. I loved the organization of Scouting as well. I still do.
I am not a dispassionate observer. I spent my entire childhood in Scouting. I am among the lucky ones who were able to spend not one, but two summers at the crown jewel of the Boy Scout organization, Philmont Scout Ranch. A land gift made in 1938 by oilman Waite Phillips, Philmont is 137,500 acres of pristine land in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
I was so taken by my first troop visit, when I returned to Michigan I applied to join their Trail Crew program for the following summer. I was accepted and in summer of 1983, I and a friend joined Scouts from all over the country. For half the time, we built a hiking trail through the mountains, with picks and shovels, sometimes through solid rock. And for rest we were rewarded with a glorious hiking expedition through the Rocky Mountains. I can't say that the "work" part of the trip was any less enjoyable than the "reward" portion. I had the time of my life every single day.
And I did. We all pulled together as a team.
I returned from New Mexico feeling strong and powerful and resourceful and independent and popular, and at a time when it's so hard for teenagers to feel any of those things. And I conquered fears and performed feats I didn't think I could. It's hard to convey how beautiful and precious those memories are to me still today. These experiences left a lifetime impression on me, as surely as many of us can remember a favorite teacher or another life-changing event.
Today, I glanced through my photos taken with my Kodak Instantamatic X-15. The are blurry, and fading yellow, and poorly shot. Yet the memories they elicit are still vivid and bright.
It hurts me personally to think an organization I loved considers me, as a gay man, unworthy to wear the uniform. And in their eyes, I always was unworthy. Even when I was later asked to serve as assistant Scoutmaster.
And later in my adulthood, it crossed my mind to return to Philmont. I even went as far as applying to be among their summer seasonal staff. Part of me did so with great trepidation, knowing it'd be difficult to lie about myself for an entire summer. And the burden of scrupulously guarding a secret may spoil the summer and make it impossible for me to really bond with my colleagues or charges. I got called for an interview by a recruiter that seemed enthusiastic, and well he should have been, my relevant experience was great. But, I never followed through. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right and you really can't go home again.
This is a fight worth having. There are armies of former scouts, now grown ups like myself, who have fond memories of many years of Scouting. And BSA holds a virtual monopoly on so many great resources:
- No one else has Philmont.
- No one else has the hundreds of local Scout camps.
- No one else awards an Eagle Scout, still an impressive résumé bullet.
- No one else has the credibility to be welcomed into local, even national government, for educational experiences.
- No one else has the literally millions and millions of charitable dollars, public and private, funding their operations.
It isn't only leaders like Tyrrell. Kids are often expelled as well. Even as BSA affirmed their policy a story was breaking nationally of the expulsion of an 18-year-old Scout, Eric Jones of Missouri, being fired from his camp counselor job and ejected from the his troop.
Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and the editor in chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, gets it. Writing in the New York Times he says (emphasis mine):
What kind of message does it send to hormone-addled adolescents discovering that they’re gay (or that their friends are) when an organization central to their identity turns out not to want them?Imagine how Eric Jones feels right now. After one quick disclosure of honesty, Jones has transitioned from being a counselor, a leader entrusted with the responsibly of being a role model, to being an outcast, viewed as a danger to the same kids he was just months ago hired to mentor?
And kids are coming out earlier and earlier. In fact, this generation of kids increasingly may not even have a concept of having been "in."
The average age of coming out has been dropping dramatically, with public self-identification happening between 15-17 (as opposed to 19-23 in the 1990s). The LGBTQ support hotline, The Trevor Project, has also observed increasingly younger callers making use of their services. This is well within Scouting range. At least, if they're sincere in their desire to mentor boys into men.
Greg Lattera of Philadelphia was just 18 when he was expelled from the Boy Scouts in 2003 for being gay. At the time, the 18-year-old Lattera held a rank just below Eagle Scout. He too was also a camp counselor. His case spurred a federal lawsuit about public subsidizing that failed at the appeals level. After he told CNN:
"I'm still the Scout that they turned into a man... Gay Scouts are just as good as any other Scout. ... We love Scouts just as much as anybody else."
And we're going climb this one too, and we're going to win this fight. It'll happen because we're right.