It goes without saying that I am no fan of the Boy Scouts of America. Just about every trauma in my youth had some sort of scouting connection. And, on principle, I think the decision to even consider homosexuality as having any sort of bearing on membership in that benighted organization to be backward and silly.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s consider it anyway.
Back in 1993, when President Clinton was considering lifting the ban on homosexuals on active military duty, then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell rejected the contention that excluding gays from the military was akin to racial discrimination and instead compared it to a reluctance to live in close quarters with someone of the opposite sex. A military man with tremendous respect for women would recoil at the idea of unisex bathrooms where men and women shower together. That may make him a prude, but it doesn’t make him a misogynist.
In a nutshell, the idea was that life in uniform is strenuous enough without introducing unnecessary elements of sexual tension into the mix. (All that may end up changing now that women are going to be assigned to the front lines, but that’s a discussion for another day.) In any case, Powell’s arguments were ultimately rejected, and now even President Clinton’s feeble “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise has been repealed.
The sky hasn’t fallen.
Recent academic studies suggest that the repeal has not had a negative impact on the military overall. One might be tempted, then, to conclude that General Powell’s concerns were unfounded, and only bigotry can account for opposition to the idea of the Boy Scouts of America following the military’s lead and lifting their own restriction against gay scouts. Certainly bigotry is an issue. It is not, however, the only issue. Indeed, Powell’s argument carries far more weight when talking about adolescents and not adults.
Those serving in the military are old enough and mature enough to deal with the complexities of sexual attraction amid their ranks. The same cannot be said for 13-year-old boys with hormones a’blazin’. These are kids who are only beginning to understand the strangeness of their own bodies and what they ought to, or ought not to, be doing with them.
Can anyone persuasively argue that pubescent boys should be going on overnight camping trips together and sharing tents with pubescent girls? What a recipe for disaster that would be. One could expect a lot of scouting pregnancies to result from the annual 50-mile hike.
Could openly homosexual scouts create situations that were equally problematic?
Well, in the pregnancy sense, no, they couldn’t. That’s simple biology. But what about in the emotionally scarring sense? And I’m not just talking about the relatively few instances where a straight kid would face unwanted advances from a gay one. Given the difficulties of understanding and coping with sexuality at that age, the danger of “out and proud” flamboyant Eagles making life uncomfortable for the Tenderfoot heteros really doesn’t strike me as a widespread problem. I’m far more concerned about the gay scouts themselves. Bullying, in my experience, is a Boy Scout tradition. Remember, I used to get beaten up on scout outings because I was a weirdo. I shudder to think what my scouting fate would have been if I were gay besides.
This isn’t just an abstract matter of principle. A significant increase in hazing incidents would present an unacceptable liability risk for the BSA as an organization. Are they prepared for that? Can the BSA survive as an institution if they make this level of a paradigm shift without a clutch?
There are hopeful signs that such a thing is possible. Canada’s scouting organization makes no effort to discriminate against gays, and the sky hasn’t fallen there, either. But it’s important to note that once the ban is lifted, there is no going back. It’s not bigotry to consider all the ramifications of such a decision before jumping in when you can’t jump back out again.
Bottom line: no scout, gay or straight, should ever have to be inducted into the Order of the Arrow.