When I first heard that the Boy Scouts of America had partially lifted their ban on gay scouts, I was moderately encouraged. But not fully. Lifting the ban is certainly good for those young men who self-identify as LGBTQ (well, I guess it’s just GBTQ, in this case) but it leaves something hanging. An enormous something. Without older scouts, without leaders, the transition is not only incomplete: I would venture to say that the effort is stillborn. It is not even halfway there. It’s barely a step in the right direction. It is the right direction: but it’s hardly a glance.
One interesting story concerns the pastor of a church in Vermont, which has sponsored a scout troop for some years. According to her description: “There are forms that each adult leader must fill out in order to be an official volunteer. As the pastor of my church, the chartering organization, I have to sign off on each one attesting to their moral fitness to serve as Scout leaders or badge counselors… [yet] they do not trust that I have the moral fitness to be a Scout leader myself. The reason, simply, is because I am gay.” (Emily C. Heath, 2013)
This is just one story of many that are and will crop up as time progresses with this policy. As they get older, those scouts who do self-identify as gay will have to leave the organization. Overnight they will be rejected. It will be as though, having spent potentially years under the Scouting system, they have suddenly become immoral simply because of their maturity. But it seems to me that this is exactly the reason that the Scouts need to include adult leaders. Young men, coming out in their teens if they are gay and in scouts, need the examples of older role models to teach them how to live in a world where they are not welcome. They need the examples of men who may have lived their lives “in the closet”, so that they can avoid that kind of discrimination and be proud of who they are. When they face the darker sides of the gay community (and their are darker sides: as there is with the straight community), young men need role models to focus their moral compass. Straight scout leaders can’t teach them all that: they’ve been in their ivory towers too long, and can no longer fully relate to the issues faced by gay teens. We’ve seen the results of bullying and teen suicides in schools among LGBTQ youth: straight teachers and principles and PTA boards have been unable to cope. Honestly, straight scout leaders have been the source of this discrimination in the past. Young men should not have to face these kinds of challenges alone.