Friday, May 24, 2013

Wither now?

In the wake of the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly homosexual boys but not adults, I'm bracing myself for the inevitable questions I will face over the next days and weeks. "What does this mean?"

For those who want to present this as the scouts "ending discrimination", the previous policy was not discriminatory. It does not exclude people on any other basis than behavior. The scouts' membership policy has been challenged time and again. In 1995 Yeaw v. Boy Scouts of America challenged whether it was discriminatory for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts to refuse to admit girls. The scouts won. In 1998 Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America challenged the policy on refusing homosexual leaders. Welsh v. Boy Scouts of AmericaI (1993) and Randall v. Orange County Council (1998)  challenged the policy on atheists. Finally in 2000, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale went all the way to the Supreme Court and settled once and for all that the Boy Scouts of America's policies are not discriminatory and are perfectly legal.

The reason is that scouting is an organization based on a common set of values. It doesn't matter who you are, if you espouse that set of values, you are welcome. If you do not, you are not. The same can be said for basically any organization. A model airplane club is for people who enjoy model airplanes. They are welcome to refuse members who wish to ban model airplanes. You get the idea.

However, the homosexual community wants to present itself not as behavior or beliefs, but of biology. The contention is that being "gay" is like being black, and therefore they cannot be "discriminated against." The lack of any evidence that you are "born gay" and the weight of evidence that you are not are ignored by pretty much both sides in the argument. The group has successfully lobbied from the top down, and controls a disproportionately large amount of money.

Which is where the scouts come in. While an individual scout may be concerned with the values of scouting, at the national level the concern is "how do we pa for that?" It takes a lot of money to be able to run a program that gives millions of boys so many opportunities, and since a large part of funding is controlled by a relatively small number of donors, manipulating donor money becomes a more effective tool than lawsuits to effect policy change.

And so the national BSA committee decided to change the membership policy. Earlier this year, they sent up a "trial balloon" with an announcement that they were "considering" a change to lift the ban on openly homosexual adults but not scouts. The change included a "conscience clause" which allowed individual units (troops) to make a decision to allow or not allow openly homosexual adults in their unit. This was to avoid losing religiously sponsored troops.

There was a large backlash from individual units. The reason is that the scenario presented was the "worst case" in a lot of ways. It would expose each individual unit to the kind of harassment and lawsuits that had plagued the national organization for decades. It raised questions about youth protection. And of course, it violated the moral principles of scouting.

So, over the past months the BSA has lobbied its members heavily on the subject. There were polls which were incredibly one sided scenarios to provide statistics that would favor a change to allow openly homosexual youths. I believe this was the plan all along. It is way easier to get parents who worry that their own son may "come out" to support allowing "gay" youths than is it to get them to approve of having a drag queen for a scout master. And once the ban is lifted for one group, the other will surely be allowed. After all, you can't tell little Johnny it's OK to sleep with boys, but his dad can't be involved in scouting because...well, why exactly?

And so we get to where we are now. The numbers looked like there was grass roots support, the media was beating on the issue regularly, and frankly a lot of people who objected the first go round were ignored on the revised policy change proposal. No, I am not surprised that the BSA lifted the ban on "gay" scouts - anybody who is surprised is naive. When the first "proposal" was announced it was inevitable.

So what does this mean to me? In answering that I'd like to point out the statement made by the BSA [emphasis mine]:
Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.
What does he think "openly gay" means, if it does not include sexual conduct? Does he mean "same sex attracted?" But that's different from being "openly gay." Is it OK for a boy to be "dating" other boys, as long as he doesn't go past first base? Third base? Are scout leaders then supposed to inquire about the scout's sexual lives? "Johnny, did you ever touch a girl's breasts?" The whole notion of allowing boys who espouse a certain sexual conduct but saying sexual conduct is not allowed is absurd.

This may seem like I'm diving into minutia, but it can and will be important when considering eagle scouts. The rank of eagle scout is the highest rank in the BSA, and to earn it a boy has to meet certain criteria, which involve living up to the scout oath and law. First off, the current scout oath involves promising to remain "morally straight," which is problematic given the change. I expect the oath to be amended. But even without that, the scout must adhere to moral principles. I am aware of cases where a boy has completed all the requirements for eagle scout but was denied the rank because he was discourteous to someone.

That's a pretty high bar to clear. And the next time a boy is denied eagle because of sexual conduct, and that sexual conduct is homosexual conduct, you can bet the policy will be revised again. And again, and again. There's a story attributed to either George Bernard Shaw or more popularly WInston Churchill that goes something like this:
Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?"
Socialite: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... "
Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"
Socialite: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!"
Churchill: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”
Now that we've established that the BSA's principles are for sale, it's just a matter of price. And homosexuals aren't the only group looking to change BSA principles to match theirs. I predict turmoil and strife, and an ultimate watering down of the twelve points of scouting.

So, what to do? I could resign my position, and pull my sons out of scouting. I'm sure a lot of people will be doing that. But what would tat accomplish? There are still many good things about scouting that we can't get from another organization. leaving would be "giving up" all that we've done - running away from the bullies. On the other hand, is staying being hypocritical? In spite of knowing this was coming I haven't reached a decision, mostly because it was unclear exactly what changes would be made. For instance, would there be a "conscience clause" similar to what was in the original policy proposal.

The change doesn't go into effect until January 1, 2014, so there is time to think and pray about this, and come to a conclusion. Perhaps the organization will split over the issue, like the Anglican Church. Or perhaps a splinter organization will form, like the American Heritage Girls did in the case of the Girls Scouts abandoning their values. One thing that is especially troubling to me is that I would like to remain a leader, since I would like to help the boys in our troop regardless of what the policy is, yet if I were personally faced with an "openly gay" scout I could not in good conscience be involved in award that would affirm his moral behavior, and so I could not remain a leader.

So what does this mean? I don't know yet, but I could use your prayers, as can the entire BSA.

UPDATE: The NCCS (National Committee on Catholic Scouting) seems to have a stance similar to mine (they must be pretty smart ;-) ):
Today, the voting members of the BSA voted to change the membership standards for its youth members. The BSA proposed in its resolution that "no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." Its membership standards for adult leaders remain unchanged.
The Catholic Church teaches that people who experience a homosexual inclination or a same sex attraction are to be treated with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons. The Church's teaching is clear that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral. Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.
Since the change in policy will not take effect until January 1, 2014, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting has adequate time to study its effects. The NCCS will determine how it may impact Catholic chartered Scout units and activities. In doing so, we will work within the teachings of our Catholic Faith and with the various local bishops and their diocesan scouting committees.


There seems to be a lot of confusion about what being gay means. I don't have any information that is not available to everyone else out there.

However, I am gay, and I have known it since a relatively young age. Throughout almost all of my life, I have not acted on it.

But I'm still gay when I'm not having sex.

This appears to be the part that is tough for most people to understand. It's probably because most of us do not think much about our image of self. It's background noise, like not thinking about air because it's everywhere and we can't see it.

But until gay folks can explain how same sex attraction affects identity beyond the sex act, we're going to run into this misunderstanding.

When I was in school and of scouting age, there weren't many kids who were coming out. I don't know whether that has changed today. In my experience, kids that age are sort of working through their issues quietly, and they come out later in life (college age or later).

Let me put it this way: A lot more kids are teased mercilessly and accused of being gay while in school (usually because they fail to be as masculine or feminine as their peers believe they ought to be), than are actually gay.

If the scouts have allowed for homosexual members at an age when the vast majority of gay folks are not out of the closet, while still barring sexual conduct of any kind by members, it seems all they have done is prevented kids from worrying that they're going to get drummed out of scouts.

Lastly, as far as nature or nurture goes... I don't know and I don't care. As the NCCS (and the Catholic Church generally) has said, "people who experience a homosexual inclination or a same sex attraction are to be treated with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons." That is all anyone can ask.

Katy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say there's a lot of confusion about what being gay means. I usually use the term "gay" in quotes for that very reason - it is unclear whether it's intended to mean "has same sex attraction" or "engages in homosexual acts". It looks like you identify yourself as a lesbian, although you say you haven't acted on it. That sounds confusing to me because it is generally assumed that people who "come out" or self identify as "gay" are following their inclinations. Perhaps that's just a side effect of the general sexualization of our society.

It seems to me the way it has generally been understood in law has also been to mean "engages in homosexual acts." It's not explicitly stated that way in any law, it's usually called "sexual orientation" but if you look at how the law is applied it seems to apply to sexual acts, not orientation.

For instance, the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" applied the standard that the person's inner desires were their own business, and only homosexual activity would be barred from the military. Similarly, the existing scout policy as implemented did not bar someone for having feelings, only for openly promoting a lifestyle that included homosexual acts.

The new scout membership policy is vague in what it covers. What do they mean by "sexual orientation" if it doesn't mean something different from what's being done now? What do they mean by "any sexual activity is forbidden?" Previously we only considered sexual behavior that occurs at scout events. But the new policy sounds like we are to reject all boys who are not virgins on their eighteenth birthday. I can't believe that's what they meant, and so the only conclusion I can reach is that they mean boys can engage in homosexual acts as long as it's not on a camp out.

As a Catholic Christian I certainly would treat a person with same sex attraction with the same respect I would anyone else, but that respect does not require me to approve of homosexual activity. In fact, it is out of respect and concern for their welfare that I point out that such activity is harmful to them, both physically and spiritually.

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