I’m not sure why anyone is surprised that the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed the group’s bigoted ban on out gay members and leaders. After all, this is a group that is guided by the Southern Baptist Convention, The Roman Catholic Church, and the Mormon Church. Until the influence of these conservative religious groups wane, a new policy is doubtful, if not wishful thinking.
The campaign to eliminate the ban was masterful. Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, who is the son of lesbian couple in Iowa banned from leading his scout troop, led the fight. Handsome and well spoken beyond his years, Wahls was right out of central casting. His rousing speech on the issue to Iowa legislators went viral on the Internet.
Wahls teamed up with Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mom rejected as a troop leader because of her sexual orientation. Like two sticks rubbing together to start a Boy Scout’s campfire, they began a Change.org petition that gathered 300,000 signatures asking the BSA to change its discriminatory policy.
Even though this tandem did everything right, they still lost the battle after a clandestine 11-member committee “was unanimous in its conclusion” that there was no place for gay people in the scouts.
“Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting,” said the Scout’s statement. “While not all board members may personally agree with this policy, and may choose a different direction for their own organizations, BSA leadership agrees this is the best policy for the organization.”
Don’t you just love the way our foes maximize harm in our lives, then smile and reduce their destructive actions to personal disagreements over policy? I’ve got news for the Boy Scouts and other anti-gay outfits – policy is personal. And they know this to be true or they would not waste so much time and effort defending the indefensible.
The difficulty with the campaign to overturn the ban was that it was waged against the BSA, as if it were an independent entity, instead of a puppet that is captive to larger religious forces. In a BuzzFeed article by Chris Geidner, Wahls appealed to the religious values of the Boy Scouts.
“In the Boy Scouts, I learned about the importance of religious respect. I learned and grew alongside Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus,” he said. “Regardless of your thoughts on homosexuality, surely we can agree that gay people who serve our troops and communities deserve our respect and gratitude.”
While this may be true, such positive values are subservient to the fundamentalist idea that LGBT people are morally inferior and should be punished for existing. A more accurate reflection on where the Boy Scouts stand comes from a 2003 article in the New York Times:
Critics of the ban on gays say the national council holds to it in deference to the religious conservatives, particularly those in the Mormon church, who dominate scouting. The Mormons charter more than 26,000 Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops — more than any group in the country. They provide not only a guaranteed supply of young members — more than 410,000 at last count — but also enormous financial support. The position of the Roman Catholic Church, which charters 17,000 troops with 345,000 members, is clear. Reversing the ban on gays could cost the Scouts hundreds of thousands of members, by some estimates.
There was never an iota of hope that the Boy Scouts were going to budge in 2012 because the people calling the shots are in Rome and Salt Lake City.
This isn’t a lost cause and Zach and Jennifer should not be discouraged. Public relations matters and the reputation of the Boy Scouts has been badly harmed by this debacle. Changing demographics ensure that pressure against the BSA policy will only intensify.
Look at polls on marriage equality and use them as a guide on when the BSA’s anti-gay policy will fall. Right now, slightly more than 50% of Americans support same-sex marriage. When the polls edge up to 65%-70%, the churches will be under enormous pressure to change or they will find themselves in a knot that even a Boy Scout couldn’t untie.
It’s almost miraculous how conservative religious institutions find ways to abandon absolutes when enough people believe their rules are absolutely wrong. The Mormon Church, for example, once said they would never allow black priests. Of course, that changed in 1978, to keep the LDS church from becoming black sheep.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”