Early next week, 102 years after the beginning of the Boy Scouts of America, the National Council is expected to announce that it will allow gay Scouts and troop leaders. This is a 180 degree turn from their 30 years of active opposition to gays in scouting. “The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue,” BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement to USA TODAY.
In 2010 the Boy Scouts of America reached its 100th Anniversary. It should have been a time of unified celebration. It should have been a time to look at all the good that the organization had achieved. But it was not. Politics and evangelical religion had come into the scouting movement over the past 30 years and the BSA had not learned that simple law of physics…for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In 2010, at the National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, scouts openly booed the President as he gave his address to the scouts by video. Neither they nor their leaders were held responsible for this lack of leadership, this lack of common respect. Those on the political right defended the booing by saying that President Obama didn’t come to the Jamboree and speak to the scouts in person. I attended three Jamborees, the 1967 World Jamboree in Idaho, the 1969 National Jamboree in Idaho and the 1973 National Jamboree in Pennsylvania and we never once had a President speak. So I checked…Truman, Johnson, Bush1, Clinton and Bush2 attended Jamborees. Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter, or Reagan did not [Bush2 only attended one of the two during his term]. Only one president was booed…politics won.
At the same time, during scouting’s 100th Anniversary, the push from the National Council to prohibit gays from being members or being leaders, whether men in the Boy Scouts or women in the Cub Scouts reached national attention. It began in 1980, about the time the Reagan conservative movement came to national presence. Openly gay men were denied the right to be leaders. In 1991 they issued their first position statement on the subject. Over the years they fine-tuned their bias against gays in each policy statement on the subject. In 2001, Eagle Scout Steven Spielberg resigned as a board member rather than tacitly support their policies. “The last few years in scouting have deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination. It’s a real shame,” Spielberg said from a prepared statement.
In 2009 the Boy Scouts of America were introduced to social media and Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mom who was pack leader for her son’s Cub Scout pack. She was also openly gay. While the local council didn’t object, the National Council did. And scouting erupted with its first nation-wide protest against the BSA policy. 336,000 people signed her change.org petition and on social media she was supported by hundreds of thousands.
The Boy Scouts of America stood firm…at least in public. But behind the scenes at the BSA National Executive Board, members James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T who is “on track to become president of the Scout’s national board in 2014”, opposed the policy and stated their intention “to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress” in changing the policy.
During this same period of celebration, the 100th Anniversary of the Eagle Scout in 2012, thousands of Eagle Scouts, the pride of the Boy Scouts of America began to protest, began to get together and stand up to scouting bias and hate. Whether gay or straight, many Eagles returned their badges to the National Council clearing stating that the Boy Scouts were wrong in their policies, were wrong to hate, were wrong to be biased.
2010-2012 were supposed to be two of the best years in scouting. They turned out to be the worst. And they were because the Boy Scouts of America had turned its back on its mission. Yes, it is a private organization which is allowed to make any policies it wishes. But it also is a private organization that cannot be tone-deaf to society, it cannot, by its own Scout Laws and Oath be an organization of bigotry and hate. In that, it has had a catastrophic failure in leadership.
In another hit to the Boy Scouts, they were compelled, in 2012 to release over 20,000 files on leaders and incidents of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.
The fallout against the Boy Scouts of America has been long in coming but building yearly. Membership is down 47% in the Cub Scouts and 20% in the Boy Scouts. Volunteers have raised questions that there are allegations that the National Council and some local councils have been fudging the numbers to trick donors. “Volunteers say paid Scout leaders have created fictitious “ghost units” for years to pump up membership numbers to trick donor groups and charities, including the United Way, into giving them more money.”
UPS has joined Intel in dropping funding to the Boy Scouts as their policies conflict with the norms and mores of the corporate world and society. They join the thousands of former Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts and volunteers who have walked away from supporting the organization as long as they maintained their policies of bias and hate. And it is these volunteers that are the backbone of the Boy Scouts. Without them and their support the Boy Scouts will continue to lose funding, lose volunteers, and most important lose membership.
I attained Eagle Scout in 1970; I attended National Jamborees in Idaho and Pennsylvania, a World Jamboree in Idaho and was prepared to be staff at the 1979 World Jamboree in Iran which was cancelled. I hiked thousands of miles with the Boy Scouts in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Idaho, California, Washington, Colorado and New Mexico at the Philmont Scout Reservation – where I was introduced to a rattlesnake and got my first helicopter ride to the emergency room. I sat beside my uncle who was Camp Director at a camp in Tennessee before I was old enough to join the scouts and I was taught by scout leaders in Southeast Kentucky who had fought in Anzio, Normandy and Korea. They taught me to be strong and to be a leader. They also taught me to do what was right and stand up against what was wrong.
Teaching what is right and what is honorable are what has been missing for the past couple of decades in scouting. It will be good to get them back. The kids of this country can use the help.
McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resided in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst. His grandfathers helped organize the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and his father was a career long butcher and union representative.
You can read more of McAllister’s observations and opinions at Shoot From the Left Hip.