The Boy Scouts and the KKK.
The day I heard that the U.S. Supreme Court had put its permissive imprimatur on the Boy Scouts of America's theological exclusion of gay boys and men from its troops, my mind leapfrogged to Prof. Henry Higgins. Not because he was gay--rather, my mind served up an upside-down take on one of his favorite themes: "Why can't the Boy Scouts/Be more like the Girl Scouts/Girl Scouts are so decent/So thoroughly fair." Not to mention that the Girl Scouts has provided an important scouting experience to hundreds of thousands of girls for years without requiring a merit badge in discrimination.
Not the Boy Scouts. When BSA officials learned that James Dale--member of the prestigious Order of the Arrow, assistant scoutmaster, and Eagle scout--had affirmed that he is gay, they gasped and turned this shining example of scouting into an instant example for shunning. Well, now that the group has had its final word on policy, it's time for us to have ours.
First and foremost, just as with any religious organization or any organization that discriminates on a prohibited basis, there should no longer be one dollar of public support given to the Boy Scouts. No school, no police department, no park department, no public agency should provide sponsorship or lend its name in any way to this group.
In many cities and counties and in some states, discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. This alone should preclude the use of public funds to support the Scouts. But such prohibition is not necessary to block sponsorship, since the basis for the ban seems to be religious in nature and schools are not supposed to support any religion over another.
Second, because all organizations must be allowed public access under certain conditions, the Boy Scouts should also be allowed to use public rooms, parks, community centers, etc., but never to any greater extent or for any lower price than, say, the Ku Klux Klan.
Can there be local mitigating factors? One of the most interesting consequences of the controversy over the BSA's antigay stance has been the establishment of a movement called Scouting for All. Several troops, unsupportive of the prohibition on gay scouts and leaders, have declared that they are unwilling to follow the mandate. Most do not have openly gay scouts but are simply taking a stand.
It is a development that raises some contradictory considerations. On the one hand we want to cheer them, to hope they set an example for other troops and contribute to undermining the national discriminatory policy. On the other hand we have to ask if such a declaration in and of itself is sufficient to allow them the privilege of receiving public sponsorship or public funds. After all, they are still operating within the greater Boy Scouts organization.
It reminds me of those days when the private men's clubs excluded women and people of color. When we criticized the men who remained in those clubs, they would reply, "We're working from within to end discrimination."
Well, it didn't work so well from within. As I recall, we had to sue every one of those clubs or threaten to in order to get any kind of fair access. Working from within may be a long shot in such an entrenched organization, especially one that has had its policies ratified by the Supreme Court. However, perhaps it's different when we've already lost round 1 in litigation. What are the real alternatives? I am leaning toward supporting this new, in-their-face movement in the hope that it will affect the next generation of scouts.
Since I am a glass-half-full kind of gal, I have to say that these struggles really cheer me up. The Supreme Court case, these breakaway troops, the deep importance of the scouting movement to generations of men mean that once again discrimination against gays and lesbians will be one of the topics giving us indigestion and food for thought around those family Thanksgiving tables. What a cherished American tradition--to eat turkey and talk turkey at the same time. Perhaps it's the only thing that ever leads to a permanent sea change in the national psyche.