Some wag has said he didn’t see what the big deal is about the Boy Scouts allowing admittedly gay boys in their troops, since most pre-pubescent boys are gay already. That’s more a comment about preferences in companionship than sexual orientation.
I suspect the controversy about the role of gays in the Scouts is yet another case of adults making a fuss over something that kids don’t even give a second thought. On the liberal side, in the ongoing crusade of nondiscrimination, the Scouts represented one more fortress to be stormed. On the conservative side, the Scouts represented an ideal of wholesomeness that would somehow be indelibly stained by allowing self-identified gays as Scouts or Scout leaders. In reality, the Boy Scouts are neither obstructionists nor saints. Like the military or the police or any civic organization, they include a wide range of people.
The recent decision by the Boy Scout National Council, to allow gay boys to be Scouts but not gay adults to be Scout leaders, struck me as overly cautious, but it’s perhaps understandable for an organization that has had cases of sexual abuse in its ranks. Still, some corporations, such as FedEx and Caterpillar, have withdrawn their support from the Scouts because of the decision to exclude gay adults.
The story has been different among the religious organizations that sponsor Scout troops. They have stood by the Scouts. Although the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution yesterday at their annual meeting that disapproves of the new policy, it was softer than had been expected, and churches were not encouraged to drop the troops they sponsor. According to this story from Reuters, the largest sponsor of Scout troops is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Mormons — and contrary to what you might expect, they have accepted the new policy. The same is true of the second-largest sponsoring group, the United Methodist Church, but that is not surprising since the Methodists are a pretty all-embracing bunch.
The story goes on to say the third-largest religious sponsor of Scout troops is the Catholic Church, and that will be a case to watch. The new policy goes into effect in January, and the Catholic leadership has made no decision yet about what to tell its parishes that sponsor troops. Of all religious denominations, the Catholics have exercised the most consistent (some would say intransigent) principles. Several years ago, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts gave up its adoption efforts because the state mandated that gay couples be considered on an equal basis as heterosexual couples. The church said it could not go along and terminated an otherwise positive social service. Say what you will about the Catholics, they can’t be accused of being wishy-washy. If that is any precedent, I would not be surprised if the church leadership declares that parishes may not sponsor troops rather than allow the possibility they might include openly gay Scouts.
As I say, I’m sure that all this is a non-issue for most of the boys in the Scouts. My own memories of my days in Scouting are rather fuzzy, but I mostly recall boys being boys. It was about learning skills and teamwork along with having fun. For the record, I was a pretty bad Scout. Made it Second Class and earned, I think, one merit badge.
The Boy Scouts do uphold certain ideals, ideals that are admirable but open to broad interpretation, which is natural for an organization as diverse as it is. Gay Scouts should be able to fit within those ideals with no trouble, if adults will let them do so.