The Boy Scouts of America are facing two really pressing issues. How do they address the decades of sexual abuse within their ranks that are slowly coming to light? And should they change their policies toward gay scouts and scout masters? These two questions are related. Right now, the Scouts' policies benefit child molesters at the expense of gay and straight scouts.
I think it makes sense that homophobic, insular groups like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts are embroiled in child molestation scandals. A community-wide belief that homosexuality is wrong and that only gay men molest children gives child molesters great cover in those organizations. After all, if they have wives or girlfriends, then they can't possibly be child molesters. So, it behooves people looking for easy targets to propagate the belief that it's solely gay men who molest children. This belief also assures parents that as long as homosexuals are kept out of the ranks, their children will be protected from child molesters. Sure, a covert gay person might somehow sneak in, but for the most part, your child is safer in the closed group than outside it. No need to pay that close of attention to the people spending time with your boys.
But this homophobia also benefits child molesters in another way. If being gay is so terrible and homosexuality is a set of acts, not an orientation, then anyone who is involved in sex acts perceived of as homosexual could rightfully be described as gay. And being gay is terrible. So, if a child is molested by a scout master or other adult volunteer, he's less likely to come forward and say what happened to him if he thinks everyone will think he's gay, which he has been taught is bad.
The third reason I think child molesters would prefer to keep gay men out of these closed groups is that gay men recognize male desire better than straight men. After all, if you're not looking to get with another dude, do you really need to hone the skills to tell if he might be into you? No. But gay men learn how to tell when another dude is into him or, and this is the important part. Straight people might second-guess their concerns about how much attention a leader is spending with a certain child — after all, what if he's just really friendly? — but a gay guy is much more likely to recognize sexual interest on the part of the skeezy dude. So, you can see why child molesters would want to keep gay men either out of an organization or susceptible to blackmail themselves.
So, it's good news that the Boy Scouts are trying to figure out whether they need to change their policy toward gays. (Hint: they do!) According to Gawker, scouting organizations across the land and other stakeholders are being polled on what the official Boy Scout attitude toward gay people should be.
Some of the poll is made up of direct yes-or-no questions like, "Do you believe the current policy prohibiting open homosexuals from being Scouts or adult Scout leaders is a core value of Scouting found in the Scout Oath and Law?" But others, like the ones pictured below, ask respondents to decide how "acceptable" they find different scenarios. For instance, is it acceptable or unacceptable — or somewhat unacceptable — for a gay adult to take a troop of boys camping overnight? And is it acceptable for a gay 16-year-old to be a vaunted Eagle Scout?
I received a copy of the email sent by the Great Smokey Mountain Council to their stakeholders. The email explains who will be able to take the poll — "adult volunteer leaders and parents" and "all Chartered Organization Executive Officers and Chartered Representatives." In the Boy Scouts, a chartered organization is the group (most often a church) who sponsors a scouting unit (usually made up of a Cub Scout troop and a Boy Scout troop, but sometimes more than two troops and sometimes less). The executive officers would be whoever was on the committee that oversaw the scouting unit. I'm not sure who the chartered representatives would be aside from that, but I can imagine a scenario in which a pastor is not on the scouting committee, but the scouts still want to hear from him or her.
The Boy Scouts provide a list of the top religious chartered organizations. If you look at the list, you can understand why the person who passed the email along to me is concerned that nothing will change.
But I wonder, when anonymous, and faced with a question like, "Tom started in the program as a Tiger Cub, and finished every requirement for the Eagle Scout Award at 16 years of age. At his board of review Tom reveals that he is gay. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the review board to deny his Eagle Scout award based on that admission?" — will people really say that Tom should not be an Eagle Scout?
I have to think that we're heading for a situation where either individual troops are given the ability to make their own decisions about whether to accept gay people or the Boy Scouts get to slide into social irrelevance. That would be too bad. But the Scouts, though they may not know it, need gay people. Or — between this and the molestation scandal — they won't have anyone left willing to let their kids be scouts.