Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress?
Tuesday, May 28, 2013Tweet
Last week the Boy Scouts of America voted to end their ban on gay Boy Scouts, a ban that has been in place for decades and that was even upheld by the Supreme Court 13 years ago. Boys will no longer be excluded from troops or denied earned Eagle Scout awards because of their orientation (or at least they shouldn't be under new Scouting policy).
The organization did not vote on whether to change its ban on gay scout leaders, so that policy remains in place for now. I think it's important to remember that they didn't vote on this -- although the choice not to vote on it says something in itself, it's still different than if they'd voted on both and had different outcomes for scouts and leaders.
In the progressive circles in which I tend to run (and read), there has been a definitive split in people's reactions to this news.
On the one hand, I'm hearing things similar to what Amy at Unchained Faith said: "Either you're ok with gay people or you’re not; let's not have this wishy-washy crapola passing as 'progress.'...this is not a step of progress."
Then there's people like Kimberly, a gay woman who writes at Coming Out Christian, celebrating this news: "Alleluia and praise be! The Boy Scouts of America have agreed to allow openly gay boys as members!!...I am so grateful for this step you have taken. Though I wish you could have gone one step further to welcome gay leaders, I do understand where you’re coming from."
On Facebook, a friend posted that many conservative groups are pulling support from the Boy Scouts of America as a result of the decision to allow gay scouts, and encouraged her friends to consider donating to BSA to show them that they'd made the right decision. One person commented that BSA wouldn't get a penny from them until everyone was welcome, as scouts and as leaders.
Can you guess where I stand on this?
On both sides of this argument, everyone agrees that gay (and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) individuals should be allowed to be Boy Scout leaders. So we'll start from there. Just like in the contentious issue of abortion, the question (at least within these progressive circles) is not one of right or wrong, it's about the most effective approach to get BSA to allow gay leaders.
So as I see it, the two basic arguments are as follows:
Argument 1: Even though we wish BSA had gone further with their inclusiveness, we are happy for the step that's been taken. We need to celebrate and show support for BSA so they'll see that they did the right thing in allowing gay scouts, and will therefore be more open in the future to voting on and allowing gay leaders as well.
Argument 2: If we celebrate this change in policy and congratulate BSA on what they've done, they'll think they've managed to placate their critics and that they don't have to do anything further. The split policy of half-acceptance will remain in place, and gay leaders will be out in the cold. We need to show them that we won't be happy until everyone is welcome, and then they'll be more willing to vote on and allow gay leaders.
I find a few problematic assumptions with argument 2. One is that BSA made the change solely or mostly to silence the critics who were insisting BSA change its policy, pulling their financial support, returning their Eagle awards, etc. I think this ignores the fact that there were vocal critics on both sides -- those unhappy with the current policy, and those threatening to pull support if the policy was changed -- and that the vote was 61% to 39%, so there was division within the organization about the right path as well. And it was a vote -- it was not a single head person caving to public pressure or saving public face with the media.
Even if this were the case, that BSA was making decisions primarily based on public opinion, reacting negatively or not at all doesn't make sense for working toward the inclusion of gay leaders. There has already been a strong negative reaction from those who think BSA should not have allowed gay scouts. If people who are unhappy there wasn't a vote to change policy on leaders also withdraw or withhold support of BSA, then the larger picture from the organization's perspective is going to be: Allow gay scouts = Drop in support from all sides. I just can't see how this would somehow create a strong incentive for the organization to also allow gay leaders.
But mostly, I reject the argument that progress isn't progress unless it's perfect progress. Looking back through history, it's clear that positive change for any group has always been made one step at a time. The gaining of some rights is not made meaningless by the rights still lacking, and it hasn't stopped people from fighting for further progress.
This policy change is not perfect, and it's not complete. But it will have a real, positive impact on thousands of children who were once told they were not worthy of being a Boy Scout, and are now told that they are. It is a change that has meaning for those who completed their Eagle Scout projects and were denied the awards they'd earned because of their sexual orientation.
Acknowledging progress does not mean you've stopped fighting. Celebrating the new inclusive policy on scouts does not mean I'm giving up on leaders, hanging up my hat, and saying, "Good enough." It only means that I'm happy to acknowledge a milestone reached on the road of progress.