On May 23, 61 percent of 1,400 voting members approved a measure to allow openly gay youth to participate in the Boy Scouts of America — one of the largest youth organizations in the U.S., with the participation of more than 2.6 million young people. The new membership policy, set to go into effect on Jan. 1, states that “no youth will be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The majority of Boy Scout troops are hosted by churches and religious organizations throughout the country. While teaching boys important leadership and camaraderie skills, the 103-year-old organization also serves them a hefty dose of patriotism and religion. The Boy Scout Oath or Promise states, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” (usscouts.org) This ideological platform attempts to divide young working-class men from their brothers and sisters around the globe.
And yet, this vote by the membership remains an important victory, similar to the overturning of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the pro-imperialist, sexist, anti-worker U.S. military. The vote is a result of struggle — in this case, the struggle of former Boy Scouts and troop leaders who were ousted for being gay, along with their allies. In the 13 years since the Supreme Court ruled that the organization had a right to discriminate, these forces have successfully pressured a number of businesses to withdraw their sponsorship from the Boy Scouts.
The vote in favor of inclusion reflects the changing consciousness of people in the U.S. and around the world in terms of rights of lesbians, gay men, bi, trans, queer people. In large part, it suggests an effort by the organization — whose numbers have been steadily dwindling for years — to avoid becoming irrelevant bucking the tide of pro-LGBTQ sentiment.
The decision helps lessen the stigma of being gay — especially for the many young gay men who suffer from depression and often turn to suicide. As the numbers of murdered LGBTQ people rise in the recent period, this vote helps affirm that even the most deep-seated bigotry — coming from right-wing churches — can be defeated.
The struggle continues, however. The BSA refused to even vote on its ban against gay adults, who are still not allowed to participate or have leadership roles. The ban on LGBTQ adults will paradoxically force young gay men to leave the organization the minute they turn 18.
This is workplace discrimination; while many of the scouting leadership roles are voluntary, there are also paid positions in the BSA. It also sends the bigoted and completely bogus message that gay adults are predators who must be kept away from young children.
Many LGBTQ people and allies are saying that overturning the ban on gay leadership in the Boy Scouts is inevitable, given the recent ruling on youth and society’s continually evolving consciousness. When this occurs, it will result from the same impetus for all LGBTQ victories — the struggle of LGBTQ people and their allies for their rights.