By Aaron Claycomb
When I was 18, I was awarded the Eagle Scout rank within the Boy Scouts of America, and after hearing about the controversy recently attached to this organization — dating back to 2000 — I felt moved to write about whether the scouts will forge new trails or continue to suffer in this media onslaught, and as a result, where both the organization and its scouts might end their journeys.
After just a few weeks of media frenzy across the nation, the BSA now stand in the cannon fire of serious political debate and media controversy regarding the group’s decision to reconsider its ban preventing gay members from joining its ranks.
The BSA is receiving backlash from both anti and pro-homosexual groups, each fighting against the other in a decade-long war regarding homosexual rights, leaving the organization, and more importantly, the scouts, in the middle.
From age 11, boys enter the scouts to follow leaders, learn to lead and aim to achieve the Eagle Scout rank by their 18th birthdays. Entirely separate from the Girl Scouts — who currently have no membership restrictions on the basis of sexual orientation — this organization teaches young boys how to become responsible citizens as well as how to develop personal fitness, according to the BSA.
On Jan. 28, the BSA issued a press release stating that it was reconsidering “removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation” and would pass that decision along to the local scouting units. A few days later, the BSA postponed the vote for the National Annual meeting in May, according to the release. In May 1,400 members of the national council will vote on the national ban.
In years past, the BSA has defended its stance against allowing openly gay members’ involvement in the organization, citing that it does not comply with being “morally straight,” a part of the Boy Scout Law.
Despite seeming like an easy decision on the basis of equality and diversity, the BSA’s most recent public reconsideration is a long step forward from its previous notions. Although the BSA is within its rights regarding the ban — the Supreme Court said in 2000, according to The New York Times — its constant public appearance in the media for such a politically sensitive topic is tainting this century-old organization, creating divides within its ranks and leaders, along with outside interests taking up sides for or against the organization. This situation is far more than right versus wrong; for the BSA, its decision to reconsider the ban is based on political survival, in addition to what the BSA said was “an outpouring of feedback.”
The New York Times also reported that churches sponsor 70 percent of local scouting units across the nation, which would raise a legitimate concern for the BSA. With the BSA’s hiking bootlaces tangled in political knots (its own sponsors, largely anti-homosexual), I imagine that the deciding forces in the BSA were left clueless as to which direction the century-old organization should trek toward.
I can understand the situation. It’s two difficult questions that these leaders were unable to find a definite answer for: how strong are allegiances between the BSA and its supporting religious institutions? And how much does this ban compromise the organization as a whole? These same questions may very well still be unanswered in May for the 1,400 voting members; or maybe these few months were planned to strategize and play politics in order to secure the organization’s success.
It’s a precautionary tactic to remain in the good graces of the organization’s supporters, and the BSA is warranted in its comprise. Unit sponsors would be provided the ability to decide their unit’s own member restrictions — depending on the votes outcome — including on the basis of sexual orientation. But still, the question stands: is this enough to keep these two parties satisfied and cooperating?
If only a third of these church sponsors decided to disassociate with the BSA and cut ties, both homosexual and heterosexual scouts would be left without a troop. The BSA’s prime concern is to teach boys to become responsible citizens; its concern should have nothing to do with sexual orientation. But clearly, these outside groups have their own agendas, one of which advocates for a BSA cleansed of homosexuals. Sadly, this leaves the BSA stuck in the middle.
Eagle Scout and active member of the BSA Clinton McBride has worked at seven Boy Scout summer camps and isn’t sure where this issue will leave the scouts. Gay members are already an active part of Boy Scouts, he said, but “they just don’t talk about it.”
McBride added that “even working at camps, you run across members of staff who are gay,” and to him and others at the camp “it doesn’t matter.” Despite what already appears to be turning a blind eye to enforcing its own rules, the BSA nonetheless stands firm on its public decision.
To follow McBride’s sentiments regarding the organization’s survival, May will determine where allegiances align within this organization and dictate the outcome of its political future.
The BSA voters are tasked with a hefty decision in just a few months, and sadly, its decision to postpone the vote only weakens this national organization’s image. As for the BSA’s future, that depends on its political prowess, members’ stance on the stated issue and voters.
The BSA’s compromise of giving scouting units the ability to chose membership rules for themselves will still create many public relations nightmares for the organization in the future — regardless of the vote’s outcome. This middle ground compromise may or may not lessen the dissention within its ranks and please its political alliances and sponsoring groups. However, where the scouts venture next will be determined in May.