Below is an op-ed I wrote in 2001 in my role as community columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times. In light of recent decisions by the Boy Scouts of America, it seems timely to repost it now.
Even after four decades or so, I can still quote the Scout Law, the Scout Oath, the Scout Slogan and the Scout Motto in their entirety. But I never thought that those portions imploring us to be “morally straight” and “clean” would be used to bar homosexual boys and men from the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
In the segregated South of the mid-1950s, the members of Troop 112 in Tullahoma, Tennessee were a collection of middle class white boys, each of us so enveloped in the racism of the times that we didn’t even see it much less question it. Camp Boxwell, the Boy Scout camp in Middle Tennessee, was our summer refuge, for many, the first taste of freedom from home and school. For a week, sometimes two, Stewart Horn, Pete Mulloney, others and I swam, paddled, shot targets with .22 rifles and only occasionally did some arts and crafts. We learned teamwork and out of that, leadership and how to support one another, creating camaraderie and close ties, some of which lasted into adulthood.
Through the Scouts we got to explore our nation. During the summer of 1957, we went to the National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with side trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City. The next summer, the hardier souls traveled to the Minnesota-Canada border for a ten-day canoe trip.
The Scouts helped us to expand our vision of ourselves and of the world, to see beyond our small town provincialism. I walked in a scrawny kid who lacked self-confidence, who was afraid of the water and who saw the world as the domain of white folks. I left a young man who had grown into his body, who was more at home with himself, especially in the woods, who served several summers’ tenure as a lifeguard at a local swimming area and who began to comprehend the absurdity of “separate but equal.”
I had not given the Boy Scouts much thought in recent years. I guess I assumed that the Scouts had opened their ranks to all in these more egalitarian times. So I was surprised to learn that the BSA had decided to officially prohibit homosexuals from serving as Scouts or Scout leaders, a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale in 2000.
According to the BSA website (www.scouting.org), “Although the BSA makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person, the BSA believes an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the faith-based values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.” But when you get into the judging business, where do you stop? Are the obese next? How about vegetarians? Or kids with bad breath? Is this the kind of behavior we want to be teaching our youth?
I question whether this role model business is the real reason for exclusion anyway. Are the current Scout leaders expressing their absurd fears and those of some parents that a homosexual troop leader is just waiting for the chance to sexually prey on young boys as they sleep under the stars? Isn’t this ugly myth closely akin to the disgusting fiction that was in vogue not too many decades ago, the fabrication that black men lusted after white women, and that it was absolutely necessary to keep them apart or the worst would certainly happen? We now accept the latter as utter nonsense. Yet isn’t what’s being expressed in both these falsehoods the deep-rooted fears of men insecure in their own manhood? Do we want to keep passing on these fears?
Scouting for All, an alternative Scouting group, is working to get the BSA to rescind their discriminatory policy against gay youth and adults and atheists. On their website (www.scoutingforall.org), they state: “BSA’s immoral policy offends all who value social justice and human rights. Their policy of discrimination is increasingly harmful to Scouting and to both gay and straight youth as well as being fundamentally contrary to the precepts and principles for which Scouting was founded.”
At their best the Boy Scouts teach personal values, leadership, tolerance, self-reliance and the wonder of the natural world. The discriminatory policies they now uphold reveal them at their worst. It’s time for an amnesty for all of those who have been kicked out because of their sexual orientation. It’s time to open the doors of Scouting so that no person is denied membership because of religious belief, disability, race or sexual orientation. A Scout is friendly. And he is brave.
Bruce Mulkey, Asheville Citizen-Times, August 25, 2001