Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is the new head of the Boys Scouts of America organisation, and despite shepherding the US Armed Forces through the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and voicing his previous support of gay adults in scouting, he refuses to change the policy banning the same adults.
I have tremendous respect for Robert Gates, and so apparently did Barack Obama when he became president. Although Gates was appointed by George W. Bush, there was a reason he was chosen to keep his position as Secretary of Defense (or SecDef as those of us with any kind of military background are likely to call him—or her, if that ever happens), and that reason is simple: he's damn good at his job and he knows how to compromise.
Many of those of us with scouting backgrounds, I feel, were looking towards Gates taking over as a BSA willing to turn over a new leaf. After all, this was a man who, whatever his personal beliefs, recognised what was best for the military and the country. He seemed to be reasonable. The world has changed. Unfortunately, despite his personal views, he has placed the so-called democratic process of the BSA's national leadership ahead of what is best for the scouting organisation.
I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made. I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country.
I have to wonder, how many votes there would have been for a change of policy if lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender den mothers, scoutmasters (like Geoff McGrath), etc, could have openly advocated on their own behalf without outing themselves and putting their positions in jeopardy. While I am sure many of them voted their conscience anyway, there is a significant difference between doing so and advocating publicly, putting a human face and story to the experiences of LGBT scouting personnel. Marking a private form and sending it in is unlikely to sway scouting volunteers who feel themselves to be moderate or centrist and would have seriously considered such public arguments.
Given the strong feelings — the passion — involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own.
With all due respect, sir, we're already there, at least as far as fracturing. There is already a divide between those who can serve as BSA leaders openly and those who cannot. And more and more former and current scouts are rejecting what they see as a fundamental devaluation of the Scout Law, and a refusal to provide them with role models who "help others at all times."
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
These men and women, and especially those young men who were scouts themselves or are about to finish their time in scouting and would like to go on to help support the organisation which gave them so much are met with violations of the Scout Law. Right now the Boy Scouts of America policy banning LGBT personnel makes the organisation at least untrustworthy, disloyal to its own, unhelpful in a time of need, unfriendly, discourteous, unkind, and disrespectful of religious views which view LGBT individuals as equal, and at the last: incredibly cowardly.
Stepping up and declaring that an organisation which has been so part of the fabric of American life will treat all people with equal dignity and equal opportunity regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity would be brave.
Image via AP.