Religious and Sexual Orientation in the BSA
Prejudice, n. a vagrant opinion without visible means of support.
— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
It’s not 1991 in the Boy Scouts of America. That was the year that the Girl Scouts issued a Statement in which they said: “As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”
It’s not 1993 in the Boy Scouts of America. That was the year that at the Girl Scouts’ national convention in Minneapolis it was decided by a vote of 1560 to 375, that a girl scout could pledge service to “God,” “Allah”, the Creator” or anyone else she wished. B. LaRae Orullian, its national president said: “The important thing is that the spiritual principles which continue to be the fundamentals of Girl Scouting recognize that there are some religious groups . . . that believe in a spiritual motivating force, but use words other than God.”
It’s not 2003 in the Boy Scouts of America. In a 2003 Girl Scout tract entitled “What We Stand For” the organization said: “The Girl Scouts value diversity and inclusiveness and, therefore, do not discriminate on any basis. . . . We believe that sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address.”
It’s not 2011 in the Boy Scouts of America. That was the year that the Girl Scouts of Colorado said: If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”
It’s 2012 in the Boy Scouts of America. It could be 1910, the year the organization was formed. It could be 1993. That was the year that the Boy Scouts defended a suit brought by 10-year old Mark Welsh who lived in Chicago and wanted to become a Boy Scout. Since he was a boy he was the right sex, and since he wasn’t gay, he had the right sexual orientation. His only failing was he did not believe in the Boy Scout’s God. In fact, he said he didn’t believe in any god. He was an atheist. That was too much for the Boy Scouts. They denied him admission. He sued demanding to be admitted to the scouts. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, two of whose members had been left stranded in the 19th Century upheld the Scouts. They said letting young Mark in would “run the risk of undermining one of the seedbeds of virtue that cultivate the sorts of citizens our nation so desperately needs. [Bigots].” So much for Mark.
While looking back fondly on that outcome, the Boy Scouts of America continue to march forward into the 19th Century. In April 2012, Boy Scout den mother, Jennifer Tyrrell, of Bridgeport, Ohio, was told by the Boy Scouts that she could no longer serve as a den mother because she was a lesbian. On July 1, 2012 she delivered a petition with 300,000 signatures on it to the Boy Scouts demanding that she be reinstated. Shortly after she submitted her petition the Boy Scouts of America announced the conclusion of a 2-year study on the question of gays in the scouts and reaffirmed the policy of “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals.” The organization reaffirmed its belief that admitting atheists, agnostics and gays would reflect badly on the organization. Bob Mazzuca, Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts explained the policy saying: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family . . . . and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.” This is a progressive attitude since it means a boy who engages in same-sex orientation discussions at home is not offensive to the organization. However, parents who learn of what the scouts would consider a son’s incorrect sexual orientation should keep that information within the family and not share it with a prospective scout troop.
According to documents released in a 1993 lawsuit against the Scouts, between 1971 and 1991, 1,800 Scout Masters were removed from their posts because they were suspected of molesting boys. In some cases the offending individuals were simply reassigned to other posts. In 2010 a jury awarded an Oregon man $18.5 million for abuse suffered by a man at the hands of his scout master during the 1980s. In 2009 a Burnsville, Minnesota scoutmaster was arrested and charged with six felony counts of sexually abusing scouts in his troop. In 2011 he was found guilty of assaults on one boy and faced additional charges. In March 2012 a boy scout volunteer was found guilty of first and second-degree sexual assault of one of the scouts who visited him in his home.
Heaven only knows what things would change if the Scouts were now to admit gays and atheists. The answer might well be-nothing.