by Walter Brasch
Harry Strausser III owns a successful small business with 25 employees in Bloomsburg, Pa. As an undergraduate, he was a national champion in several forensics categories, and represented the Boy Scouts of America in national competitions sponsored by the Reader’s Digest. As a graduate student, he coached a college forensics team. He has never been arrested or suspected of any crime.
Strausser is an Eagle Scout. He is also gay. The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America says he doesn’t have the right “core values” to be a Scout leader.
Denny Meyer, who lives in New York City, wasn’t a Scout, but often tagged along with his older brother to Scout meetings. During college, Meyer, the son of Holocaust refugees, enlisted in the Navy in 1968 “to pay my country back for my family’s freedom.” After four years, he had quickly advanced to Petty Officer Second Class (E-5), got a job as a civilian with the Department of the Army, and enlisted in the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Sergeant First Class (E-7). He later worked in international sales and office administration.
Meyer had to pass rigorous background checks to serve in two branches of the Armed Forces, but he can’t pass the background checks become a Boy Scout leader because he’s gay.
Gregory Bourke is a mainframe computer programmer and analyst in Louisville, Ky. He had been a Scout for almost three years. His 15-year-old son is a Life Scout who has finished most of his requirements to be an Eagle Scout. His 14-year-old daughter is a Girl Scout. He has been a leader in her troop for eight years; he had been an assistant Scoutmaster for five years. Last September, he received a special Legislative Citation from the Kentucky House of representatives honoring him for his community involvement and dedication to Scouting.
Bourke is no longer with the Boy Scouts. His local Council, against strong opposition from his troop and the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church, which sponsors both the Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, ordered him to resign because he’s gay, and threatened to pull the church’s Scouting charter if Bourke didn’t resign. The Girl Scouts, like the 4H Club, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and numerous other organizations, has no discriminatory policies, and Bourke’s church is pleased he continues as Girl Scouts leader
In contrast, the Boy Scouts have a long history of allowing local councils to discriminate against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. It wasn’t until 1974 that the national organization finally ended racial discrimination. In 1991, with the emergence of a “family values” conservative movement, the Boy Scouts formalized a policy to exclude gays from membership and leadership positions. The existing position is that the BSA believes “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” Nine years later, the Supreme Court, by a 5–4 vote largely along political lines, said that the Boy Scouts of America was a private organization and had every right to discriminate.
Several Fortune 500 corporations—including Alcoa, Caterpillar, CVS, Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Mills, Intel, Levi Strauss, 3M, UPS, and Verizon—have suspended funding to the BSA.
Although local United Way agencies have the autonomy to decide whether or not to continue to provide funds to the BSA, the national organization has reaffirmed its principle that “embraces inclusiveness, diversity, and equal opportunity as part of our core values, Code of Ethics, and human resource policies.” Keri Albright, president of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way (Pa.), like more than 50 other United Way local organizations, has suspended Boy Scout funding, and argues that “accepting gays is not in conflict with having good values.”
Faced by significant income loss, the Boy Scouts last Summer rethought their position about excluding gays from membership. A backlash by the right-wing, which also threatened to pull funding and membership, slapped them back into their policy of discrimination.
A petition with 64,000 signatures opposing the Boy Scout policy of exclusion was delivered to the United Way; several petitions, with about 1.4 million signatures opposing the Scouts’ anti-gay policies, were delivered to its national headquarters in Irving, Texas.
And so the flip-flopping Scouts decided to survey its members and sponsors. From surveys filled out by more than 200,000 Scouts and their leaders, 50,000 alumni, 270 councils, and about 100 religious and community organizations, the surveys revealed, according to the National Council, that “a majority of adults in the Scouting community [about 61 percent] support the BSA’s current policy of excluding open and avowed homosexuals [but] younger parents and teens tend to oppose the policy.”
Among those who oppose inclusion of gays as members or leaders are several churches. Franklin Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, says he’s “gravely distressed” that the Scouts are even considering revising their policy, and if they allow gays as members his churches are likely to sever ties with the Scouts. In contrast, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association, among other religions that sponsor Scout packs and troops, demand the discriminatory policies be eliminated. About two-thirds of all Scout groups are sponsored by religious organizations.
The 70-member executive committee is now recommending to the 1,400 voting members of the National Council that gay youth under 18 be allowed to be Scouts, but to continue to exclude gay adults from becoming leaders.
This Swiss-hole plan, which could be approved by the National Council, May 20, perpetuates the Scouts’ image as an organization that openly discriminates. It would allow a gay youth to pass the rigorous tests to become an Eagle Scout, including a requirement to “serve six months in a troop leadership position,” yet not be allowed to become an adult leader. Such a decision perpetuates stereotypes and shows that the national leadership is buried in a morass of homophobic fear.
The proposed policy revision implies that youth are still exploring their worldviews and beliefs, and that being gay is a choice that gay youth make, and one they can “outgrow” if they wish to have the BSA “core values.”
If there was a Pathfinder merit badge, the Scout leadership would be unable to earn it—they’ve been wandering the wrong trail for many years.
[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the impact of fracking upon public health and environment. Rosemary R. Brasch assisted on this column.]