Scouts need live-and-let-live policy on gay leaders

The News TribuneMay 2, 2013 

Most of the argument over gay Boy Scouts and Scout leaders tends to overlook the structure of the Boy Scouts of America.

The BSA administration itself does not run Scout troops, Cub packs, etc. Its employees provide training, insurance and other support for the “chartered organizations” whose volunteers help kids earn merit badges, take them on campouts, etc.

Many of those organizations are religious in nature and operate with great autonomy. Conservative Mormon, Roman Catholic and Baptist congregations by themselves run most troops and packs. Often their Scout leaders amount to youth ministers.

It’s arrogant to insist that churches that espouse traditional sexual morality employ gay youth leaders who may not. In our view, Scout volunteers should be judged on the basis of their character and behavior, not their sexuality. But a pluralistic society must be willing to accommodate religious and philosophical differences.

In more practical terms, the BSA would effectively dismantle itself if it were to dictate that all of its chartered organizations accept gay troop and pack leaders. Most of those organizations would likely leave and create their own programs, shattering the Scouts.

What never made any kind of sense, though, was the ban on homosexual youths themselves. Even identifying a boy with same-sex attractions is problematic at age 101/2 — when he can join the Boy Scouts — and more so at 7, Cub Scout age.

The Boy Scouts — apparently with conservative support — is finally and belatedly poised to adopt a nondiscrimination policy for boys. But the Scouts’ conservatives continue to resist another logical step: letting the local chartered organizations decide their own policies on Scout leaders. Some — such as United Methodist congregations — have no problem with gay den mothers, scoutmasters, etc.

It’s nonsense to believe this would open up summer Scout camps and jamborees to an onslaught of predation and sexual acting out.

A nondiscrimination rule wouldn’t require any organization to ignore sexual aggressiveness, be it homosexual or heterosexual. In fact, the Scouts’ training and redundant safeguards — responses to past instances of pedophilia — would make such misconduct extremely hard to get away with.

There’s no reason a local-option policy would threaten groups that want their own adult volunteers to be heterosexual role models. They’ve come around on youths; we hope they’ll soon do the same on gay leaders in troops and packs whose sponsors don’t share their view.

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