Koenig: A Scout Scorned

As a former Eagle Scout, I was shocked to learn of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to uphold discriminatory membership standards that exclude LGBTQ youth and volunteers from the organization. I protest the unwillingness of the National Executive Board to make the deliberation of its review committee public, which has only promoted inaction on this issue and discredited scouts everywhere.

Scouting in my local troop has had an indelible influence on my life, and I am grateful to the adult leaders who mentored me, taught me and dedicated their time and effort to assist in opening doors to the outdoors, to community service, to their work places and to fun. Scouting introduced me to other people my age and kept some of us together for over 10 years.

Scouting can be a wonderful influence on the lives of young people. It encourages children to be active in their communities, to find role models and to become connected with nature. The organization is composed of over 2.7 million youth members, each of whom is in the process of maturing into a man. To ostracize any one of them (which the organization has done directly in the past) on the basis of his developing sexual identity, or to passively highlight his “deviation” from the norm of behavior in scouting is unconscionable. The BSA should look to its (independently operated) counterpart, Girl Scouts of America, to learn what it means to be tolerant of differences while advocating for and empowering its members.

Instead, the BSA continues to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia among its adult volunteers, whether the BSA will admit to it or not. This is an unworthy slight,and discourages parents who are active as scout leaders from valuing their child’s chosen identity in the private “introductions and discussions” the BSA suggests that parents have with their children about sexuality. Moreover, the organization has well established existing safeguards to protect its scouts, such as two-deep adult leadership and extensive youth protection training.

The BSA believes that it is speaking for a majority of parents and volunteers in its decision. This may be true, but the BSA has not made its process open to input, instead falling back on cryptic and discouraging statements like “the introduction of a resolution is procedural and handled with respect but does not indicate the organization is reviewing a policy’ or signal a change in direction.”

The 10th point of the Scout Law states that scouts are brave, and yet its national leadership is not. Those individuals hide behind the 2000 Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale court decision that allows the BSA, as a private organization, to set its own membership policies for the protection of its “expressive message.” According to the Supreme Court, I have been affiliated with an organization for most of my life that has anti-LGBTQ advocacy as a primary reason for its existence. Lord Baden Powell, founder of the scout movement, would be surprised.

My troop was privileged to have its meeting place in a local elementary school. I participated in the Eagle Project of a scout who organized a birdhouse-building project for students. If homophobia continues to define national BSA policy, however, valuable partnerships between public schools and local scouting will be put into jeopardy. The New York City public school system barred its doors to scout troops in the wake of BSA v. Dale, and more bans will surely be implemented this year. It would make me angry to see my own troop become a pariah and lose some of the respect that the Boy Scouts have traditionally been accorded as a result of the closed-door decisions of a small committee.

I feel that I can no longer publicly associate myself with the BSA. When and I believe the change to be inevitable the BSA amends its membership policy, I will be its foremost advocate. Eagle Scouts are told regularly that the responsibilities of the rank do not end with adulthood, and I do not intend to absolve myself of my duty. For my love of scouting, and per my duty as a lifelong scout, I intend to protest the policies of the national organization until they change. I encourage other people whose lives have been touched by scouting to do the same.

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