Boy Scouts’ vote on gays only a partial step

Posted Monday, May. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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I learned a lot as a Boy Scout. I learned about leadership and hard work, about service, self-reliance and craftiness.

One thing I didn’t learn: to hate.

I’m an Eagle Scout, but I haven’t been involved with the Boy Scouts in years. As much as I gained from my experience as a Boy Scout, I don’t identify with the organization of recent years. It has lost its way.

On Thursday at the annual meeting of the Boy Scouts National Council in Grapevine (at the Gaylord Texan, no less), the organization took one important step but failed to take another. Openly gay boys can now, officially, be Boy Scouts. Gay adults still cannot be leaders.

This halfway decision may have been the worst outcome for the Boy Scouts. Now, both sides of this debate have something to be upset about. Traditionalists are threatening to leave, and gay rights advocates want gay adults to be able to be leaders.

The decision also means this debate will reemerge when the organization finally allows gay adults as leaders.

Decisive action to allow both gay Boy Scouts and gay leaders would have sent the exact message that is in the Scout Handbook’s description of the Scout Oath and about what it means to be “morally straight”: “Your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people.”

It’s says all people. Not straight people. Not some people. All people.

I’m not sure that when I was a Boy Scout in the 1990s, I would have supported gay scouts or leaders. The reality is that there probably were gay scouts in my troop and perhaps gay leaders.

Times were different, and opinions have changed. Our young people view homosexuality differently than generations past. Today’s Boy Scouts are more accepting.

I was a member of Troop 299 in Plano. At one point during my Scouting career, my mom, who had achieved the Girls Scouts’ highest rank, volunteered to be a leader, but the troop committee told her it didn’t want women leaders. A couple of years after I earned Eagle Scout rank, the troop disbanded because of a lack of adult leaders.

After Thursday’s vote, Wayne Brock, the Boy Scouts’ chief scout executive, said, “Kids are better off when they’re in Scouting.”

That means kids are better off with a leader than a troop having to disband, regardless of that leader’s gender or sexual orientation. We’re not talking about child predators here. We are talking about responsible adults who merely want to help children grow and learn the virtues of Scouting.

Another passage in the Boy Scout Handbook talks about what “friendly” means in the Boy Scout Law: “He offers friendships to people of all races, religions, and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.”

There may be no greater lesson in life than learning to accept others and getting to know people from different backgrounds. What young men will find if they get to know gay scouts or gay scout leaders is that they really aren’t any different from anyone else.

If the Boy Scouts’ goal is to help shape young men into moral and ethical leaders, it needs to lead by example. It has finally made the first step on this issue, but the work isn’t done.

Aaron Chimbel, a journalism professor at Texas Christian University, became an Eagle Scout in 1996.

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