The Boy Scouts of America, a group that is meant to educate and empower young men through team-building and outdoor education activities, has been mired in scandal for the last few years because of its ban on gay members and troop leaders. Over the years, gay fathers have been forced to stop participating in their sons’ troop activities, and gay scouts have been kicked out of the organization.
When the Boy Scouts announced recently that they would consider dropping the ban on gay members, fans of equality everywhere rejoiced — for a minute. Upon closer reading of the Scouts’ plan, however, one discovers that they are not considering lifting the ban on gays for the organization as a whole. Instead, each individual troop will make its own decision about allowing gay members.
This is a clever move by the Scouts on the national level. If they lift the ban, they’re just passing the blame for discrimination to individual troops, and they can sit back and pretend to be open-minded and accepting.
Meanwhile, individual Boy Scout troops can continue to openly discriminate against gay boys who want to participate or gay fathers who want to be involved in their sons’ activities.
What is more, bringing the decision to discriminate down to the local level means that the discrimination will be directed at specific scouts and troop leaders. The troop leaders who decide whether to discriminate against gays will actually be deciding whether to discriminate against familiar young men and members of their troops. If troop leaders decide to continue the discrimination policy in some cases, this means that the boys who are forced out of the Scouts will feel marginalized and personally targeted by adults they know rather than by a faceless organization with which they are unfamiliar.
That is not to say that the national organization should continue their policy, which is unfair, discriminatory and despicable. Rather, they should lift the ban on gay scouts altogether and dictate that all troops must accept any member who wants to join, regardless of sexual orientation.
Discrimination cases against the Boy Scouts have reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the organization had the right under the First Amendment to exclude gay scouts and troop leaders. Just as discrimination on the basis of race is banned despite the First Amendment, so too should discrimination based on sexual orientation be prohibited.
As a nation, we are evolving. Gay marriage is slowly becoming legal in more and more states, and as a whole our society has become more tolerant of differences in sexual orientation and identification. It is time for the Boy Scouts to catch up with the rest of America and to stop causing emotional distress to young boys who only want to learn and have fun.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 6 print edition. Jessica Littman is a staff columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.