The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

March 13, 2013 by Heidi Gralla

“Be Prepared” To Protest The Boy Scouts’ Anti-Gay Power Play

I guess I can’t really take any personal credit for this, but I’m gratified that a chorus of protest, including mine, has prompted the Boy Scouts of America to re-evaluate its policy banning participation by gays and lesbians. (The Girl Scouts have always had a policy of non-discrimination.)

After re-affirming the exclusionary policy as recently as last summer, the BSA announced in January that it may change the rule so that each local unit could decide whether to admit homosexual leaders and scouts. This proposal triggered so much heated debate — within and outside of scouting – that the organization tabled the matter until its next meeting, in May.

It will be interesting to see whether the families who left scouting in response to the BSA’s anti-gay policy would find this new approach to be acceptable. I don’t. When my husband and I enrolled our seven-year-old in Cub Scouts last year, we knew the BSA had a reputation for being homophobic, but we hadn’t realized it was actually written into the organization’s by-laws. We discovered it when the anti-gay policy was re-affirmed last summer, and we left scouting at that time. (Lilith, Winter 2012-2013)

I saw it as a social justice issue that was closely tied to my identity as a Jew. I was especially disappointed that with more than 160 Boy Scout and Cub Scout groups affiliated with Jewish organizations, there wasn’t a bigger protest from Jewish scouting leaders. I think that’s finally starting to change. According to an article in The Jewish Week, officials of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, which serves as an advisory committee to the Boy Scouts of America, took a vote of their regional chairs and found overwhelming support for an end to the ban on homosexuals in scouting. Members of the committee will push the BSA to change its policy, the article said.

I think it’s great that public pressure has promoted the BSA to reconsider its by-laws, but I’m disappointed that under the proposed policy local groups would still be allowed to discriminate. It’s especially offensive to me that this is coming from an organization that represents itself as a teacher of values and character in young people. As bad as the existing policy is, this new one would create the possibility of a local Scout troop, including the leaders and maybe even the older scouts, sitting in a meeting together and making the case to each other for why their group should write a discriminatory policy into their local by-laws. It’s easy to envision a lot of narrow-minded, bigoted comments being made in the process. This doesn’t seem like a good lesson to teach young people anywhere.

Understandably, this is a difficult issue for the BSA. The organization has long-standing ties to religious institutions that preach against homosexuality, and BSA’s leadership wants to be sensitive to those groups’ religious principles. But if the BSA is going to wrap its intolerance in a shield of religious principle, then it should be treated as a religious group, not as a quasi-public institution. Often revered as the very image of an all-American boyhood, Boy Scouts enjoy vast access to public events and locations for their activities and their meetings. They host activities in public schools, at major sporting events and in all sorts of municipal venues. Much of that access, often at taxpayer expense, would not be so willingly granted to a church or synagogue group.

The president of the United States has always served as the honorary president of Boy Scouts of America, which again, allows the BSA to promote itself as an American institution, even as it uses religion as an excuse to exclude. I wonder if President Obama has ever considered resigning as honorary president of the BSA. Would he willingly lend his name to a group whose by-laws banned African-Americans or Asians? Even with the proposed change in policy, I wouldn’t think he’d want his name listed among the leadership of a group that permits discrimination of any kind by its local chapters. He’s well-aware of the ban, and said in a pre-Superbowl interview on CBS earlier this year that he does not support it. What a powerful statement it would make if he resigned.

I recognize that allowing local units to admit gays and lesbians is a huge first step for an organization that has struggled with this issue for years. But I hope that if the new rule is adopted, it doesn’t appease people so much that they settle for it. Our family is not re-joining Cub Scouts until everybody is welcome throughout the organization.