Boy Scout Troop 166 met on Tuesday evenings at Monroe Junior High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and played a formative role in my childhood. It was a very active troop, with monthly campouts and week-long, 50-mile hikes in the summers. I was in the Raccoon Patrol, and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back out with the Scouts, twice. I learned how to cook over a fire, how to tie knots, how to provide CPR, how to read a map and use a compass. I learned about teamwork, and responsibility, and citizenship, and service. I would not be the man I am today without Scouting, and I will treasure the experience as long as I live.
The man I am today also passionately believes that gay people should not be discriminated against in any way, and I’ve blogged about this many times. I’ve written that same-sex marriage is a fundamental human rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.
I’m happy and relieved that the Boy Scouts voted today to allow openly gay boys to participate. My joy is tempered by the fact that openly gay adults still are banned from Scout leadership. It will take a few years — maybe even quite a few — but one day that barrier also will fall. Today’s vote is the equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military — not good enough, but a step in the right direction, and the best that could be accomplished at the time.
The Boy Scout Oath ends with a promise “to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” I have no patience with the people who brandish “morally straight” as a reason to exclude gays — but there is some logic, of course, behind the ban on gay adults. Very few adult men of any orientation would ever prey on underage children — but the number is not zero, and predators gravitate toward situations where potential victims are plentiful. That’s why the Girl Scouts don’t send men to their campouts, and I have no quarrel with that.
The boys could learn something from the girls. I was chatting the other day with a woman who is active in the New York City leadership of the Girl Scouts. She told me that they have no prohibition against lesbian Scout leaders — just a common-sense understanding that any such leader should be paired with another adult woman during events or activities. Surely any openly gay Scout leader of either gender would want such a chaperone for their own protection against false accusations.