The Boy Scouts of America voted yesterday to end their long-standing ban against gay youths. At the same time, another prohibition against gay adult scout leaders was left in place. James Dale, who was a 19 year old assistant scoutmaster when he was kicked out for being gay in 1999, perfectly sums up the awful contradiction in the new Boy Scouts’ policy:
…Boy Scout leadership cobbled together this convoluted policy that sends a patronizing and damning message to young people: homosexuality is a youthful indiscretion, once you are an adult you must disavow who you are to continue to accepted us.
His entire Washington Post column is worth a read. He’s right that the new policy is fatally flawed – essentially saying homosexuality is ok for children, but not for adults. But I disagree with the conclusion he draws from that:
Many well-intentioned people characterize this new policy as progress; sadly, this it is not the case. What the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America has proposed is a destructive and damaging policy that sends a hurtful message as young adults search for a place in the world.
Would it have been acceptable if the civil rights movement stopped after Brown v. Board of Ed, with newly integrated schools graduating children into a society that remained segregated in every other way? Of course not—which is why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed 10 years later to outlaw segregation in all other settings.
This showed us that equality cannot be doled out in fits and starts, and we must learn from that history: we cannot accept a half measure from the Boy Scouts of America.
I think the example of the Civil Rights Movement actually teaches the opposite lesson. Brown v. Board was not a mistake because of the problems it failed to solve; it was a step forward that could be followed by another step forward with the Civil Rights Act and then the Voting Rights Act.
In the case of the Boy Scouts, accepting gay youths is a major victory at an institution that is a symbol of traditional America. It is also a fatally flawed half-measure that turns its back on those same youths once they turn 18. So we should celebrate today, and then come back for the full-measure tomorrow.