It seems that we may well have another victory to celebrate. Earlier this week, the Boy Scouts of America told USA Today that the BSA may finally allow openly gay scouts and scout leaders. This change in their decades’ long policy will require approval, next week, by their national board. It seems highly unlikely that they would have leaked this story to the press if they were not confident that the board would approve.
Just to be clear, the new policy would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that sponsor Boy Scout troops to determine how to address the issue. It falls short of a national affirmation of gay scouts or scout leaders, but it is a huge step in the right direction, bringing the decision to the local level where relationships and personal knowledge can trump prejudice.
In June, 2005 at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Fort Worth, TX, I met with representatives of the BSA and UU Boy Scout leaders to urge exactly the approach the BSA now seems to be taking. The UUA has urged the BSA to change their policy since 1985. (You can read a history of the UUA’s advocacy with the BSA here.) UUA advocacy centered not only on BGLT rights, but also the rights of young atheists and atheist scout leaders. That later issue remains unresolved.
In 1998 the BSA withdrew its authorization of the UUA’s Religion in Life scouting award and in 2000 the US Supreme Court upheld the right of the BSA to bar from its ranks gay scouts and scout leaders
In my service as UUA President, I frequently wrote letters of congratulations for UU Boy Scouts who had achieved Eagle Scout status— the highest level of recognition in the BSA. I was always happy to do so. I was a Boy Scout in my youth and enjoyed scouting. In fact, my best friend and I racially integrated a long segregated scout troop in Cincinnati. Like most institutions, the Boy Scouts has had to change in many ways. And often, the personal and the political intersect. I have tremendous respect for the courage of out gay scouts and scout leaders whose voices have kept this conversation alive.
Assuming the BSA board goes along, we have another victory to celebrate. I wish I could tell you that our religious advocacy made all the difference. This decision was apparently forced by two corporate representatives on the BSA Board. It is worth noting that on BGLT issues, many members of the corporate community have moved more rapidly than some religious groups.
You may not be aware that Boy Scout troops function, in effect, as part of the youth ministry in many churches, the Southern Baptists and Mormons among them. So, although we UU’s cannot take credit for this change, it is fair to say that we have been a part of it. At the very least, our voice disproved the contention that the whole religious community supported the BSA point of view.
It has been said many times that the movement for justice and equal treatment for BGLT folks is one of the fastest social transformations in our history. That is, I believe, true. It is also true that individuals are still being harmed, despite the current progress, and that those who break new ground for justice do the work for us all. The need for our witness, our support for the ground breakers, as well as our celebration, continues.
Through most of February, we will be sharing our plate collections with the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Those funds will support the on-going witness of our faith, in very public and not-so-public ways, for the inherent worth and dignity of us all.