For many, the Boy Scouts creates a space where kids can be among friends, explore nature, and take action to improve their local community. Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts hasn’t always been open to all, unlike the much more inclusive Girl Scouts.
In fact, for many years the Boy Scouts of America didn’t accept gay or bisexual scouts or troop leaders, leading many states and corporations to threaten to remove their support (which ranged from preferential tax status to endorsements) in order to force the organization to become more progressive in their membership policies. The most public of these rebukes, a bill in the California legislature which would have removed all tax breaks for any organization that discriminates against LGBT youth, received widespread support from the public both in California and across the nation.
While a 2013 policy change allowed for gay and bisexual scouts, transgender youth and LGBTQ troop leaders were left out in the cold, much like atheists who wanted to be scouts or troop leaders. Camp Quest, a summer camp serving youth from non-religious families, recently announced that two former Boy Scout leaders who identify as atheists will be serving as volunteer leaders this summer.
Thankfully, another change seems to be in the pipeline, as the current president of the organization, Robert M. Gates (who also served as the secretary of defense in both the Bush and Obama administrations) has called for allowing gay troop leaders. This pronouncement comes just before a potential court ruling preempts the organization in limiting how exclusive they can be in their membership policies.
This change, if accepted by the national organization, would be a big step forward in the battle against discrimination, but it doesn’t go far enough. By continuing to allow exclusion of transgender or atheist scouts and troop leaders, Gates and the entire Boy Scouts organization are teaching a generation of potential leaders that certain forms of discrimination are OK, so long as the groups being discriminated against are parts of unpopular communities. In fact, while acceptance of gay, bisexual, and lesbian Americans is making major strides, only 41 percent of all Americans feel “warmly” towards atheists according to a recent Pew poll, and violence against the transgender community remains an epidemic.
As an organization that seeks to instill a set of ethics and principles into our children, the Boy Scouts of America has a unique opportunity and responsibility to support values that will foster unity and promote acceptance among the American people. Bigotry and prejudice are powerful problems that are difficult to confront in adulthood, and our society would be greatly indebted to the Boy Scouts organization if it were able to combat this problem at an early age by adopting and promoting truly inclusive membership policies.