Under pressure over its long-standing ban on gays, the Boy Scouts of America… (Richard W. Rodriguez / Associated…)
Americans are turning a corner on gay rights, and slowly but surely, they seem to be dragging the Boy Scouts along behind them. Leaders of the organization recently proposed dropping its ban on openly gay Scouts, while continuing to prohibit gay adults from serving as scoutmasters. Although we're glad to see the Boy Scouts of America become more tolerant, however limited and belated that change is, it must waste no time before taking the next step as well. There is no valid reason to exclude gay troop leaders of either gender, and the Scouts' lack of acceptance smacks of old and ignorant prejudices against homosexuality.
It's true that the organization has been beset by past cases of molestation, but the belief that openly gay and lesbian adults are more likely than heterosexuals to be predators is based on thoroughly discredited myths.
At its heart, Scouting's prejudice against gays and lesbians is more a reflection of deeply held beliefs that homosexuality is immoral and therefore that homosexuals are to be avoided, an attitude that was widespread in this country until a decade or two ago and that still prevails in places. That includes the odious fiction that homosexuals are bad role models or that they will try to change the sexual orientation of those in their care.
Americans have been weaning themselves from such fables in recent years. Polls show rapidly growing support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, for instance. And few would bother to suggest at this late date that there should be a ban on gay teachers in the public schools. So why would such a ban make sense in the Boy Scouts?
The organization's latest proposal, which must be approved by its national council in late May, doesn't necessarily reflect that change of heart; in an internal survey, members still tended to oppose participation by gays, although younger parents and teenagers offered some caveats. But there was no way for the Boy Scouts to ignore the societal shift; it affects public support and, ultimately, corporate fundraising support.
Here's the funny thing about accepting diversity within the ranks: It tends to make people realize how unthreatening others really are. Fear and fiction dissipate. The entry of gay Scouts will almost certainly pave the way for welcoming gay adults into the organization's leadership. Just as the recognition of same-sex marriage in some states showed the nation as a whole that no one is harmed by gay rights, so too is the Boy Scouts likely to become more informed and thus more open. It's just a shame that this is taking so much time and external pressure.