The national council of the Boy Scouts of America is considering changing their policy against admitting gay and lesbian people as Scouts or leaders in the program. I wholeheartedly support this change and I hope it is enacted.
For 57 years I have been involved in Scouting as youth participant or adult leader. I am an Eagle Scout and my son is an Eagle Scout. I am Wood Badge trained. I have been honored with the Silver Beaver Award in my council. I have served many times on the national staff of the national jamboree.
I have achieved distinction in my career at the national level. Many of the leadership attributes attributed to me by others, I first learned in scouting. The Scout Oath and Law are value systems I have tried to live up to ever since I first recited them as an eleven-year-old Tenderfoot Scout.
I love Scouting and how it helped me as a boy and as a man.
I have been increasingly upset with the organization in recent years for one reason only, the active national discrimination policy against gays and lesbians. It is a policy of discrimination allowed by the Supreme Court of the United States since it is a private, not public, organization. But being legally acceptable and ethically acceptable are sometimes different matters.
In my lifetime, I have seen many social changes. As a college student in the 1960s, I participated in restaurant sit-ins and marches for civil rights. In those days racial discrimination was the norm. Many people thought it was wrong and worked to effect change.
Change happened. Did it end racial discrimination? No. But who then imagined we would have an African-American president entering his second term?
I was a charter member of Key Club and Circle K (Kiwanis affiliated high school and college groups). My father, at the time he died, had 34 years of perfect attendance in Kiwanis. From time to time he asked if I was interested in becoming a member as an adult. I told him I could not because they did not admit women (now they do).
When my wife was admitted to law school, I went to the first meeting of the law school spouses group. There was one other male. Graduate study for the professions was mostly for men.
The secretary of defense just removed the barrier for women serving in combat. Now those females who choose a military career will no longer be barred from achieving the highest ranks.
Being the father of a daughter and the spouse of lawyer sensitized me to these issues. My fellow students and leaders of the Wesley Foundation at SIU-Carbondale influenced me in my thinking. I was influenced by the honesty and integrity of my parents. But regardless of external influences, one has to find your own value system. Discrimination is any form is wrong. People should have equal opportunity to achieve, including the achievement of the Eagle Scout rank.
This is a deeply dividing issue with people holding strong views on both inclusion and exclusion. Yesterday the national office of the Boy Scouts of America received 22,000 phone calls. I was working in my council’s office yesterday and the public relations staff was taking calls all day long.
My worry is that the present policy sends a message to the youth in scouting that it is acceptable to discriminate against other gay and lesbian youth. The message is that gay and lesbian people are not worthy to participate in the wonderful opportunities that Scouting provides for learning and leadership training.
Two-thirds of the local charters are religious organizations, many of which openly discriminate. These organizations will be enormously upset if the policy changes.
The new policy, if voted in, simply removes the national policy of discrimination and allows the chartering organizations to make their own decisions. Those that choose to discriminate will continue to do so. Others will make changes to remove discriminatory practices. In short, the national office will not dictate what the local charters will do.
This is the only practical step the national office can take. It is a step in the right direction. Progress is made incrementally. But as I look back over the changes in my lifetime, change is made.
The national office of the Boy Scouts of America has established a phone number where you may register whether you are for or against the policy.