Hero

The best in human nature.

A New Class of Segregation?

Calling on the Boy Scouts of America to embody the heroic imagination

This coming Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America will make a landmark decision about whether or not to allow gays as adult leaders. Like my colleague, Christopher Coulombe, argues below, I urge the BSA to exemplify the Heroic Imagination by not just including gay youth as members but troop leaders as well.

"I am an Eagle Scout, and I owe a great deal of my personal and professional success to the virtues that I learned in the Boy Scouts. So naturally I wanted to participate in the recent survey sent out by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Board asking whether homosexuals should be allowed in the program, and if so under what conditions.

Society by and large has accepted homosexuality. Many institutions of leadership have as well, indicating a serious shift in the acknowledgement of sexual orientation and its permanence as a genuine approach to life-long relationships.

As a society it has become time for us to ask why it is that we feel homosexuality is “wrong.” It is no longer necessary to enter relationships for the continuation of the species, and therefore it is not a moral imperative for a man and a woman to come together in marriage for the purpose of procreation. The moral imperative that does remain is that humans understand and embrace love to another and commitment to that person and the greater community.

Centuries ago it would be easy for us to find good reason for the discouragement of homosexuality. There have been several points in the progression of humankind – such as the plague - where the existence of the species, or civilization, was not guaranteed and therefore, every good citizen would do their part both economically, through production or services, and biologically, through child bearing and rearing to better the chances of its continuation.

As we proceed through technological, medical, and governmental advances to reach new phases of civilization, we are also required to reflect on the changes to our conditions and in turn, the requirements that come with them. Do we have sufficient food sources or employment to sustain our nation; do we possess the ability to provide sufficient opportunity for higher education to our citizens to meet the demands of tomorrow; do the social constructs of our nation lend to a higher production output?

If we, the scouts of America, ostracize homosexuals then we fail the nation, its citizens, and ourselves. The Boy Scouts, as the foremost institute of leadership for boys, have obligated themselves to ensuring that the U.S. is filled with men of character, virtue, and quality leadership. There is nothing that can be empirically proven that precludes a homosexual from attaining a leadership position at any level and successfully fulfilling that role. To argue otherwise is to invoke a new class of segregation.

Furthermore, if the BSA excludes homosexual adult leaders then we send the message to the boys that their homosexuality will be tolerated as a youth but he will no longer be worthy to associate with the BSA as an adult. His (potential) Eagle Scout rank, and the knowledge that he could pass on to the youth will also be worthless in the eyes of the BSA.

The Boy Scouts was founded on the principles of selfless service to others and instilling the values of conscientiousness, responsibility, and societal productivity. Boys that go through the program are put on a path toward leadership within their family, peer groups, and greater community. Reflecting back on my eight years in Boy Scouts and the experiences I had, there is no instance where having a homosexual boy in the troop would have taken away from the knowledge gained or leadership principles garnered. Conversely, had there been homosexual boys in the troop, it would have added a new level of maturity and insight to the human conditions that we all encounter in society and the workforce.

The sexual orientation of members should be irrelevant in Boy Scouts. The Oath does not say “sexually straight,” it says “morally straight.” There needs to be more review on morals, what the definition of that is, and why is it that “we” feel that heterosexual is the only acceptable path. If a straight man cheats on his partner, but a gay man is faithful to his, then who is the moral one? Sexuality is not the basis of morality, the conduct between individuals is.

Just as sexuality does not need to be a topic of discussion in the workplace, in all of my time in scouts, I cannot recall a single point where my sexuality was discussed nor of a time where I felt that it would have been appropriate to discuss sexuality of any nature with anyone, be they boys or leaders. There are no merit badges on sexuality, there are no leader discussions about sexuality, and there is no reason for it to be a factor in a scouting experience because Boy Scouts is a place to focus on developing the foundation of professional and responsible leaders.

The BSA estimates that changing the current policy to allow homosexuals will cause them a loss of between 100,000 and 350,000 members yet gain only 10,000 to 20,000. We must consider that for the BSA to be most effective for the most amount of people it must receive ongoing widespread community support, through either donating our services or our finances. If we expect our leadership organizations to make the right decisions no matter what the consequence, then we must ensure they receive our overwhelming support. This is the basis of community.

As someone who holds the institution near to my heart, I intend to stay involved with scouting, and when the day comes, bring my young boys to learn the virtues that helped mold me, though I feel there must be a redress of the issue at hand. If Boy Scouts continue to exclude homosexuals, the BSA will be become socio-culturally irrelevant and incur a disservice to the nation and our community. Sure, it will have its staunch base but that is not the purpose of the BSA. Over time its influence and impact on the youth and society will diminish and slowly but surely the BSA will fade away, as will its legacy."

 

Christopher Coulombe is an Eagle Scout and a military veteran. He has given me permission to publish his words.

Philip Zimbardo has been a Stanford University professor since 1968.

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