Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts’ Aggressively Anti-Gay Policy, Vigorously Enforced

LGBT, Lisa Bloom, News

“The policy of the Boy Scouts of America does not allow open or avowed homosexuals to serve as volunteer adult leaders,” read a letter from the Boy Scouts of America’s counsel to an attorney representing Rainier Beach United Methodist Church. The Church had sponsored a Boy Scout troop with Geoff McGrath as its volunteer leader. McGrath is openly gay.

Yes, a major organization in America in 2014 still uses the odious phrase, “avowed homosexuals.” What is that vow, exactly? McGrath had pledged himself to his partner of twenty years, in a marriage recognized by his state and federal government, but that wasn’t the vow they meant. The Scouts still imagines he swears to some secretive gay pledge, presumably, to proselytize boys to the “homosexual agenda.”

The United Methodist Church, on the other hand, has a welcoming, tolerant, inclusive philosophy of being “open to all people.” When the Boy Scouts demanded that it sack Geoff McGrath, church officials refused on the grounds that doing so would violate its religious principles. The Boy Scouts then punitively revoked its charter, prohibiting the church troop from using Boy Scout patches or insignia.

This case is a reminder that:

  1. The Boy Scouts still openly, proudly discriminates against LGBT folks.
  2. The Boy Scouts aggressively enforces its policy.
  3. It pays lawyers to attack churches for their nondiscrimination rules.
  4. The Boy Scouts’ policy is based on the oldest, most toxic and insulting stereotypes about LGBT people: that they are all suspected child molesters, unfit in the presence of children.
  5. No matter who the gay Scout leader is – in this case, McGrath is an Eagle Scout – the Boy Scouts will push him out. No LGBT person is good enough. None.

This is precisely the reason I did not put my son in the Boy Scouts. Because I’m with the United Methodist Church (though we’re Jewish): I wanted to teach him to respect the diversity of all people. Except, perhaps, avowed haters.

Last Sunday President Obama read the children gathered for the White House Easter festivities one of the great children’s books of all time, Where the Wild Things Are. Its author, Maurice Sendak, who was with his male partner for over fifty years, could not have been a Scout leader. Neither could Senator Barney Frank, nor NBA star Jason Collins, nor CNN’s Anderson Cooper, nor millions of other talented gay men who would be excellent role models for children. To the Scouts they’re not “morally straight and clean,” as required by the Scout oath. This is the language they rely on in kicking out gay folks.

Statistically speaking, one or two of the boys in the McGrath’s fifteen-kid troop will grow up to be gay. Their need for positive role models is, I suppose, irrelevant to the Scouts. Worse, the Boy Scouts is inculcating children with this shameful, shaming “immoral and unclean” insult about LGBT people. All of the boys will have to make decisions in their lives about how they will treat their gay coworkers, neighbors or family members, and the Scouts is teaching them intolerance, making very clear its position that those “avowed homosexuals” are to be fired, sent away, shunned.

Two boys in the troop have gay fathers.

It is the Scouts’ homophobia that is the morally crooked, dirty business, as it witch-hunted McGrath, who’d been the subject of no complaints, a dad generous enough to donate his time to step up to help children in his community.

How is this legal? Disgustingly, it is.

I litigated a discrimination case against the Boy Scouts in the 1990’s. Before my case could be heard, the California Supreme Court held that it was a private organization and therefore had the right to exclude kids and leaders for any reasons it liked. Other courts have issued similar rulings. Thus if the Scouts wants to discriminate based on race (it used to, but doesn’t any more), it can. If it wants to ban gay scout leaders, it can, and does. If it wants to keep out girls – though every other developed country has co-ed scouting – it can, and does.

Obviously, this is all temporary. Eventually the Scouts will give up the fight, admit LGBT leaders, and feel ashamed of its past bigotry. Just this year it has given in to outcry and boycotts and accepted gay kids as scouts. The earth continued to rotate on its axis.

In a short period of time – I give this policy three years – there will no mainstream space left in America for avowed homophobes. They are the ones who will no longer be welcome in our youth organizations and churches. Calling gay folks immoral and unclean, spewing vitriol that they are not safe around children, will be seen for the hate speech that it is, contributing to high rates of LGBT teen suicides.

The courts have failed children in the Boy Scouts cases, but our evolving recognition of gay Americans as full citizens deserving of equal rights in all aspects of life will, in short order, do the job for them.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.