On Monday, the Boy Scouts of America banned a Seattle Scoutmaster from the organization for being openly gay, saying that the group’s national policy disallowed homosexual adults from membership. Rainier Beach United Methodist Church stood by Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath after the BSA booted him for his sexual orientation in March, leading the organization to revoke the charters from both of the church’s scout units.
The issue arose when the BSA found out that NBC News was running a profile of McGrath for being an openly gay scout leader. Deron Smith, the organization’s director of communications, stated that his group’s hands were tied after the church refused to follow the BSA’s policies. “We are saddened by this development,” Smith claimed,” but remain committed to providing all youth with the best possible Scouting experience where the Scouting program is the main focus.”
The letter the organization sent McGrath on Monday explained that he was getting the boot for violating the BSA’s de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and “making an issue” out of his sexual preferences. The letter read:
“The BSA does not permit open or avowed homosexuals to serve as volunteer leaders. The BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of its volunteer leaders, and the BSA respects everyone’s right to privacy. The BSA also respects everyone’s right to hold a different point of view. But if a volunteer makes an issue out of his or her sexual orientation—especially to the youth we serve—then that volunteer is no longer eligible for to be a registered leader.”
The Boy Scouts of America is a non-profit youth organization that targets males as their membership base. While their values have remained consistent over the years, society has slowly taken an unsavory view of their exclusive tactics. Gay rights activists have questioned why the organization excludes people from joining on the base of sexual orientation. A group called Scouts for Equality exists with the sole purpose of lobbying against discrimination within the “scouting movement.”
Why do the Boy Scouts forbid gay scoutmasters? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on that. When the BSA vowed to change their policy on homosexuality back in May 2013 (they would allow openly gay members, but the ban on gay scout leaders would remain steadfast) no spokesperson would give a reason for the new policy. The BSA claimed it wasn’t because they assumed gay adults were more prone to molestation or that being gay as an adult was shameful, but because they aspired to “provide kids a place to belong while they learn and grow.” They seem less concerned with where gay boys will “belong” once they grow into gay men. Spokesman Deron Smith mustered up a hollow explanation for keeping the ban on gay scout leaders:
“By reinforcing that Scouting is a youth program … this resolution rightly recognizes there is a difference between kids and adults while remaining true to the long-standing virtues of Scouting.”
He may as well have answered with “we don’t like the idea of gay scoutmasters, so we just aren’t going to allow them,” because it at least its a cohesive sentence. There is a push from members and leaders of the BSA to allow gay scout leaders because there is no place for sexual orientation in the scouts. A Boston scout troop openly allowed a gay man to serve as scoutmaster despite the BSA’s ban, essentially arguing that “the Scouts [should] not inquire into a person’s sexual history one way or the other.” There are many members and donors of the Boy Scouts who think the ban is discriminatory and unnecessary – the BSA has had major donors yank their contributions after this policy decision was made.
But none of this was enough to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to change their decision, and they only lost about 3 percent of their membership as a result of their ban on gay scout leaders. For all the lobbying done by members, donors, and gay rights activists, none of it seemed to outweigh the preferences of BSA board members. It seems strange, when considering that a large percentage of people involved with the organization dislike this policy and/or find it offensive. But given the organization’s historical (and current) stance on the issue of homosexuality, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the Boy Scouts have kicked out a scoutmaster for being gay.
What the BSA needs – what every child and adult disenfranchised by the BSA needs – is a little scout group competition. A healthy number of people see fit to devote their time and money to starting Scouts for Equality and other lobbying groups; effort that has seen only minuscule returns. Would it not be a more productive use of time to simply start “The Scouts of America” instead? Rather than try in vain to change an organization as hoary as its traditions, why not begin a scout group that promotes equality and individuality?
The narrative isn’t going to change until the playing field changes, and that isn’t going to come by way of miraculously convincing the BSA that the threat to traditional masculinity has diminished. But, if a pro-equality scout group were to rapidly siphon members away from the BSA, they would likely get the message loud and clear: adapt or die. For there’s no message quite as concise as market competition.