The Boy Scouts of America has made a historic decision. On Thursday, the national president and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an announcement that proves grassroots equality movements really can produce change. Gates called on the organization lift its decades old ban on gay adults and ensured that local chapters who ignore the discriminatory ban will not lose their charters.
During his remarks today he cited “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and said,”The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.” He added that the world is changing and the BSA needs to change with it:
“I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage,” he said. “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”
Gates explained to members that it is likely they will be forced to change their membership anyway because of the laws passed in a number of states outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation:
Thus, between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position, a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy.
In 2013, BSA caused a national uproar when its governing body voted to end their longtime ban on gay youths but reaffirmed their pledge to keep gay adults out of the organization. This vote came despite recommendations from a number of high-profile people to end the ban. President Obama, an honorary member of the organization, spoke out against the discriminatory policy during a Super Bowl interview earlier that year, saying,”My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life.”
Instead of listening to the public and leaders, they continued to perpetuate the predator myth that has followed the homosexual community for years. Their ban implied that if a person is gay, they must be a child molester and therefore can’t be trusted to not touch our children. Absolute nonsense, but a common theme in homophobic rhetoric thrown around by “Christian” organizations.
In 2014, the organization once again made headlines when it shut down two troops when a church refused to fire Geoffrey McGrath, the boys’ gay Scoutmaster. Gay-rights advocates across the country were outraged and began protesting the organization and its bigoted practices. In May of last year 125,000 people signed a petition urging Amazon to drop the BSA from a list of charitable organizations customers could donate to.
Gates is absolutely right; in 2015, it is no longer acceptable for an organization to have bigoted policies. Everyone in this country deserves equal rights and protections and nobody should be the victim of a policy that discriminates against them. Sure it was nice that the BSA allowed gay members to join the troops, but when you ban gay adults what are you saying to kids who may be homosexual? That they are “others” and can’t be trusted? They don’t deserve to teach kids how to tie knots and start fires, because of who they love? It is wrong on so many levels and can’t change quickly enough.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.