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Tread lightly when scouting for reform

Josh Mahannah, ’Doah Staff Writer
March 26, 2013

For the past few weeks I have been contemplating this question: Should we as a population force private organizations to change their policies, when their freedom of expression–policies included–is protected by the Constitution?

The best example playing out right now is the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and their anti-gay policy which is as old as the organization. This is the dawn of the BSA’s 103rd year and in the next few weeks they will once again try to solve the problems that their anti-gay stance provokes.

I feel that it is not right for us to pressure them to make the change, yet at the same time I sit with the large groups of people who want them to rewrite their “old-fashioned” ways. We are now in the year 2013, not 1913, but how hard is it appropriate for us to push the BSA to change their rules of membership? I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever know how to answer this question.

I am proud to say that I was once a member of this esteemed organization, and it made me the person I am today. I am an Eagle Scout, and would have gone on further, but when I turned 18-years-old, I made the decision to leave. One of the reasons I left was because of the financial struggles I saw occurring in the organization.

However, there is also another, deeper reason for why I left the scouts. I am among the ranks of those boys who joined the program, hiding who they were so they could learn from an amazing opportunity. I am gay and have known since just before receiving my Eagle Award in 2008. I was never vocal about it, because I knew that I could be asked to leave the program at any time.

Even now, I could be asked by a superior scouting executive to turn over my Eagle Award because of who I am, basically throwing five determined years of hard work in the trash in order to walk the path I wanted.

I have watched from the sidelines as gay and lesbian leaders were asked to leave the packs and troops they represented, left with a national mark of shame upon them. For years I have seen the names of LGBTQ community members smeared because they were “different.” Many have taken their own lives because of the weight of the shame.

For the longest time, there was the misinformed belief that to be gay meant that you were a deviant and a pedophile. Therefore, having a gay man around a group of children was clearly inappropriate. While some men have gotten into the program and were gay pedophiles, that does not mean that all gays are. They need to have faith that the LGBTQ community has more control over themselves than feral dogs.

In the past year I have come into contact with a group known as Scouts for Equality, a unified group of scouts from the LGBTQ community. I have signed several of their petitions against the BSA, such as to cut funding from outside agencies like UPS. I do believe that now is the time for a change, but I also know that it is one that we cannot pressure the BSA into.

It will take time for them to make adjustments, and then the orders must come down from the national level to all the other councils. I think they will ultimately leave it for the individual councils to choose as they will, which will not solve the problem. People will keep pushing until it is made a national rule that no one is to be discriminated against.

The next decision comes in May, with enough time for the new rules to be unveiled by July’s National Jamboree in West Virginia. There is a chance for change, but we cannot pressure the BSA from the outside or inside; we need to give them room to breathe. After all, their rules against interracial troops didn’t get rewritten until the 1920s.

Pushing and forcing the BSA to change their historical rules will just push them off a cliff, permanently shutting them off. Think before you speak out against a group whose views are not what you think they should be, because it creates a huge mess, and those trying for the change may receive nothing for their hard work and determination.

What do you think?

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