Today, multiple news outlets are reporting that, at long last, the Boy Scouts of America is going to acknowledge that gay scouts and leaders are just as equal as straight ones by allowing scouts and leaders alike to serve openly with honor. Much like the Obama Administration’s overturning of the mealy mouthed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy implemented under the poll obsessed presidency of Bill Clinton, the scouts are, after seemingly holding a position athwart history with a baffling obstinance, making the right decision and giving gay boys and men the opportunity to give back to their communities and demonstrate that the values of honor and trustworthiness are values that both gays and straights hold dear.
Now, there is a nuance in this welcome announcement. For instance, the Boy Scouts of America are simply indicating via leaks to the media that a time for a policy change has come; in fact, there has been not one iota of solid evidence that this policy will actually take effect or be successfully implemented yet. But, perhaps most important about the announcement is its stark similarity to another bedrock American principle: federalism. Under the new guidelines from the national organization, each troop and chapter of the BSA will be able to welcome gays as both active scouts and leaders. What the new guideline does not do, however, is force troops to accept homosexuals within their ranks. In effect, the BSA is leaving it up to the individual chapters to do the right thing and thrive or to statically hover, just like the Republican Party, in an area of social obscurity thanks to their dated and repugnant discrimination.
This is an opportunity for chapters in LGBT friendly cities like Philadelphia to demonstrate why, exactly, it’s the right thing for gays to receive the precise same treatment under law and practice. And, it is an opportunity to allow more conservative, overtly Christian chapters to remain part of the national organization but to govern their local body by local customs and values. A political football manipulated by Republicans for two decades, gay rights now will no longer rip apart the Boy Scouts because of a social values schism akin to the tearing apart of the Republican Party now, leading to two successive general election failures, or the Democratic Party in the 1960s, leading to thirty years of presidential election obscurity.
Just like private churches overseen by central governing bodies dictating theology but leaving interpretation and detailed practice up to the individual congregations depending upon the local congregation’s needs, values, demographics, and geography, the Boy Scouts of America is giving its private affiliates a specific choice: to adapt and grow as society grows through gay equality; or, to become cultural Luddites refusing to adapt to anything new.
While I would be thrilled to insist that every single local chapter of the BSA welcomes gays, I also am excited at the prospect that Philadelphia’s Cradle of Liberty Chapter, now unshackled from the national organization’s former discriminatory policy and able to reflect the inclusive values of Philadelphia, has the opportunity to starkly compare itself to less than gay friendly affiliates across the rest of Pennsylvania.
Something tells me that, just as Americans have migrated to urban living to where city dwellers now outnumber rural residents, scout families and scouts themselves will demonstrate through their ranks and individual successes that diversity is the future, that gay equality falls in line with true scouting ideals, and that, with leaving the decision up to local troops, more conservative chapters will not become alienated and withdraw from an otherwise worthy, valuable organization.
In an age where men of principle seem appallingly scarce, we should not make it harder for our boys to have access to ideals and to have positive male role models. This decision will make it easier for scouts, both gay and straights, to become good, values-driven men. And, for that, it is the right decision.
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