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BOY SCOUTS ENTER FUTURE: No reason yet to celebrate vote
JACKSON HOLE, WYO - The Boy Scouts of America sent a clear message to its young members last week: You can join us if you are openly gay, and be treated as equals.
Once you are an adult, though, you will go back to being morally unfit to serve the Boy Scouts as a leader, and will be banned from the organization for the rest of your life.
I’m not a big fan of half-step measures. Some will hail this decision as progress, and a call to action to get the rest of the job done so gays can serve as Scoutmasters and other leaders. It is progress, in the sense that it was a major improvement on the Scouts’ 2012 decision to leave the ban on gay members in place.
But discrimination is still discrimination, and as long as gays and lesbians are not treated the same way as straight men and women, this is a move that shouldn’t be celebrated. If it is, we’re just teaching our children that compromises that don’t actually end prejudice and bigotry are OK, as long as we move in the right direction.
And that’s wrong. It’s as wrong now as it was when the Boy Scouts excluded blacks from their membership, and it’s as wrong as when officials thought that they solved racial problems by giving blacks their own water fountains (just as some believe gay Scouts and their gay leaders should just form their own troops). Separate but equal is a lie, and for the sake of our kids, we can’t afford to pretend any longer that it’s acceptable.
I am not gay and I was never a Scout. I couldn’t tie a decent knot if my life depended on it, and frankly, the things Scouting taught when I was growing up didn’t interest me much. Spending a year in western Pennsylvania at the age of 12, I attended a Lutheran school where almost all of the boys were Scouts, and not being one made me an outcast. But the kids in this particular troop all seemed to me to be sadistic bullies, and I certainly didn’t want to voluntarily spend any time with them after school.
But if it had been a friendlier organization, I might have joined and probably would have learned many useful life skills – skills that several of my gay friends and relatives possess. Because of my sexual orientation I could be accepted as a Scout leader today (presumably if I learned all of this stuff), but they would not, simply because they are gay. How crazy is that?
The disconnect between accepting gays as members but not as adult leaders is as evident in Wyoming as it is in any state. Searching for a real-life example of a gay man in the state who would like to be involved in Scouting but is denied the opportunity because of the ban, I stumbled upon a post on a website where anonymous gays and lesbians can discuss wanting to come out openly as homosexuals.
DMark69, who wrote that he lives in Cheyenne, posted this comment:
“I was just asked by my husband’s mom to volunteer as a Den Leader for my nephew’s Webelos Den (Cub Scouts/BSA). I have taken him to scouts before, but I have not told them about me. I was a Cub Scout/Boy Scout as a kid, and I think I could do a good job, but there [is] still [the] existing ban on gay scouts, and leaders. If they would eliminate the ban, the decision would be easy, and I would take the job.”
On a follow-up post prior to the recent vote, DMark69 recounted how he wrote to the local Cub Scout pack and told them he wanted to be a leader, but he was not going to hide who he is. He received an encouraging response: “Personally, have no problem whatsoever with your sexual orientation. I too hope that the Boy Scout policy is overturned. … I truly hope people can see past their prejudice and [accept] people for being who they are.”
I wish we lived in an enlightened, tolerant country where this man could become involved in Scouting, but he won’t be this year. I hope the ban is overturned soon so he can fulfill his dream while it still personally matters to him.
On the other end of the spectrum is the reaction to the vote posted by “Yehudi,” a 66-year-old Wyoming man, on [caspercitizen.com].
“Homosexuality, regardless of the ‘cause,’ is abnormal, aberrant, unnatural, and abhorrent to most civilized humans,” he wrote. “The problem most of us has (sic) is that there are still some people who actively campaign to try to make homosexuality to be ‘normal.’ It is not, and it never will be.”
Here’s what I would say to Yehudi, if he would hear me out on the subject: You’re entitled to your opinion, but overall in this country, public opinion is rapidly going the other way on the acceptance of gays and lesbians in our society. According to polls, a majority of Americans – though not in all states – now favor allowing homosexuals to marry and have the same rights as heterosexual couples. And a strong majority now believe that having gay leaders in the Boy Scouts is acceptable.
As more states vote to approve same-sex marriages, and more conservative politicians and churches change their opinions on the issue, we’re seeing a welcome tolerance of people regardless of their sexual orientation that is long overdue. If you remain homophobic, for whatever reason, chances are that you will alienate many of your neighbors and hurt friends and relatives who may be afraid to reveal their sexual orientation to you because they fear your response. Is that really what you want from the people around you, including some of those you love the most?
Our military has only grown stronger with the repeal of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals, because people no longer have to hide their identity and pretend to be something they are not. I’m convinced it will work the same way in the Boy Scouts of America.
In its May 21 issue, Time published a commentary by an anonymous gay Boy Scout leader. I’ll ask Yehudi and those who agree with him to read this excerpt:
“There are dozens of other gay professionals like me in the Scouts. I have met them through Scouting training courses and programs for adult leaders and employees. We dedicate ourselves to Scouting and fully support the organization. Yet we live with apprehension, hiding our personal lives and not knowing if we could be outed and fired at any moment. …
“While the Scouts claim to be a family organization, for us there are two options for having a family: hide the people we love or leave Scouting. Because of this ban, not only can my co-workers not know who I am, but many of my friends and neighbors also do not know. I live my life in silence as a result of the Scouts’ anti-gay policy. I constantly fear being fired.”
We should, at the very least, all be able to agree that no one should have to live like this.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.