John M. Becker

Yes, the Boy Scouts' Decision Is a Victory

Filed By John M. Becker | May 24, 2013 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Boy Scout gay ban, Boy Scouts and gays, circular firing squad, scouting equality

bsa_rainbow.jpgLike many equality-minded Americans, I breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when I heard that the Boy Scouts of America's National Council had voted, by a landslide margin, to stop excluding gay kids from membership.

Yesterday's move by the Scouts was a landmark step in the direction of fairness and inclusivity, especially since it comes from an organization that's almost fetishized by the Religious Right as a symbol of "traditional" (read: exclusionary) American values. But it's still only a partial victory because the ban on gay adult scout leaders remains in place. In fact, the Scouts didn't consider repealing it at all.

This sends the confusing message that gay scouts are only capable of upholding the ideals of the Scout Law -- which defines a scout as someone who is "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent" -- until their 18th birthday; at that point, they're apparently no longer able to be kind, brave, clean, etc. and essentially receive a dishonorable discharge from the organization.

Clearly, the Scouts have a lot of evolving left to do before they fully embrace equality. And let's not forget that we're only talking about gay scouts here. Trans people are still excluded from the Boy Scouts entirely.

Still, I thought it would be fairly self-evident that the end of a 103-year-old gay youth ban -- in a group that's a cultural touchstone of American life -- is something to applaud, affirm, and even celebrate. Judging by the reaction from some members of the LGBT community, though, it appears that I was wrong.

While the President of the United States and most of the major LGBT organizations acknowledged the importance of yesterday's step forward and celebrated the history-making moment (while also making perfectly clear that the push for equality in scouting continues), some groups denied shouting_dude.jpgthat the end of the gay ban represented a step forward at all, instead labeling it "insulting" and "disgraceful." Comments on various online forums, including the social media pages of several key figures in the equal scouting struggle, were just as scathing. "Disgusting -- no victory here!" wrote one Facebook user. Said another, "It's an infuriating ruling and [you] should be ashamed." "This isn't a victory... this is being placated to," still another contended.

Enough! Such a "glass-half-empty" approach -- this stubborn, self-righteous refusal to acknowledge or applaud anything less than a total victory in one fell swoop -- makes me want to tear my hair out. And I categorically reject the claim that loosening the shackles of oppression for even some members of our community is in any way "infuriating," "disgraceful," "insulting," or "disgusting." There have been many steps on the road to full, across-the-board equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, and a great many more remain. But those very steps are what will complete our journey and get us to our final destination. It boggles my mind that so many refuse to celebrate them.

Think about it: was the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment "disgraceful" because many state laws still prohibited the use of contraception? Was Brown v. Board of Education "insulting" because the Civil Rights Act hadn't yet been passed? Hell, was the D-Day invasion "infuriating" because we didn't march, uninterrupted, from the beaches of Normandy all the way to Berlin? No, no, and no.

By applauding the end of the Boy Scouts of America's ban on openly gay scouts, equality advocates aren't letting them off the hook for the rest of their discriminatory beliefs, nor are we letting up even one iota in pressuring the Scouts to complete their evolution and join the 21st century. What we are doing is acknowledging an important accomplishment and encouraging them to move even further towards fairness, rather than bitterly vilifying them for not yet being where they need to be.

In the end, it all boils down to a choice between perpetually dissatisfied bellicosity and positive, concrete forward progress. I choose the latter.

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