Boy Scouts of America should learn from its own history

DAVID MANNING REUTERS Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, Ia., talks after delivering a 280,000 signature petition to … Continued



Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, Ia., talks after delivering a 280,000 signature petition to the Boy Scouts of America’s Annual Meeting in Orlando, May 30, 2012. Wahls, the son of gay parents, is seeking the Boy Scouts to change its policies towards homosexuality and to reinstate Jennifer Tyrrell, a den mother to her seven-year-old’s Cub Scout pack from Ohio, who was forced to resign for being a lesbian.

The Boy Scouts of America reaffirms its commitment to their own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to gay members and leaders, those most expected to support the decision did so, and those most expected to oppose did the same – no real surprises in either case. The surprise, and I would say the wonderful surprise, is by two very influential BSA national executive board members who have publicly spoken about their opposition to this conclusion without breaking from the organization.

Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, both advocates for full and equal inclusion regardless of sexuality, will likely continue to argue for that policy even in the face of this new affirmation of the current policy.

As a statement released by AT&T said, “We don’t agree with every policy of every organization we support, nor would we expect them to agree with us on everything. Our belief is that change at any organization must come from within to be successful and sustainable.”

I don’t know that change from within is the only way to go, or that there isn’t also a useful role for outside agitation for the change that is sought. In fact, history tells us that there is. But it also tells us that the combination of the two is typically the most successful and durable approach to creating positive change. And in this case, the history to which I refer is none other than that of the Boy Scouts of America.

America’s first “Negro Boy Scout troop” was founded in 1911, but not until 1916 would there be a troop which was officially recognized by the Boy Scouts Council, and even then it was a racially segregated troop and fights continued about the “propriety” of black Scouts wearing the tan uniform. Struggles over the place of African-American boys and young men in scouting continued, not surprisingly especially in the Deep South, right up through the 1970s.

In other words, scouting mirrored the struggles faced by the rest of the nation. And that is precisely where the organization is on the issue of full inclusion of gay members and leaders today. The real question is what lessons can be learned from that past – lessons that will serve both individual scouts and the scouting movement?

For starters, we see that Scouts has been a fairly conservative organization – one that followed social trends rather than lead them. That has been, and continues to be, both strength and a weakness.

While pushing for many good values, including those that may seem “old fashioned” to many, Scouting has championed the value of service, moral strength, commitment to community and to family. That same conservatism has also made the organization slow to appreciate how broadly those categories can be understood without any loss of integrity.

Past experience indicates that with time, the organization is likely to become more, not less, inclusive. Given that, it would be helpful for people to follow Turley and Stephenson, and think about what could be done to encourage the organization to ask how it might become more inclusive of gay people without violating what it sees as its mission. In fact, they could come to appreciate that such inclusivity might actually help them to fulfill that mission. That is very much what happened with the integration of black scouts.

Ultimately, Boy Scouts of America is a private organization and they have the right to construct their membership rules as they see fit. They have the right to be wrong. But one hopes that they will not simply bask in that right, ignoring their own history in the process — doing that, will simply reduce a truly wonderful organization to an ever-shrinking club which is increasingly relevant to itself only.

In fact, like all great organizations, the Boy Scouts will maintain their vitality and their relevance not by simply protecting the status quo, nor by doing whatever is asked of them even by those with whom they disagree. They will accomplish the most by learning from those with whom they disagree and by incorporating those lessons, and those from their own organizational history, in ways that respect their past while embracing is presidential lessons for the future

View Photo Gallery: Boy Scout Troop 52 of Chevy Chase-Bethesda kicked off a year-long 100th birthday celebration on Saturday.


Brad Hirschfield
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  • lutelyabso10

    A hate organization like the Boy Scouts should be condemned, not honored. It’s disgusting that any person or entity supports the Boy Scouts at all. Until their discriminatory policies change, they should be treated as a pariah organization. First it was gays that were banned. Next it will be Jews, then blacks, then Muslims, then the handicapped, then any other person that doesn’t fit into the ideal image of a Boy Scout. Any parent exposing their child to the bigoted ideas of the Boy Scouts should be investigated by their state’s child welfare department. It’s the same as exposing them to any other poison. It is patently unfair that gays and their families should be devastated by discriminatory actions, while the bigots and their families go about enjoying their lives as if nothing has happened. It’s time to start making bigots pay for the discriminatory actions they take. When they have to pay a price, they might start to rethink their actions. I would urge anyone reading this to take WHATEVER ACTIONS POSSIBLE to harm the people and property involved with the Boy Scouts of America, especially the people involved in this decision, Antonin Scalia for his vote in allowing the BSA to discriminate, or their loved ones, to make them pay for the harm they are doing to the people they discriminate against.

  • zigg114

    There are plenty of men only, women only, and gay only organizations. There is nothing wrong with a heterosexual only organization. The Boy Scouts have the right to be right.

  • gunboy

    Stop trying to compare racial bias and homosexual bias you stupid morons

  • graphchick1

    just because they have the right to be exclusive, doesn’t mean they should, nor that it is the “right’ thing to do. they do a terrible disservice to the boys and young men in their troops who are gay or questioning.

  • xaliqen

    As a former Boy Scout, I’m ashamed the organization adheres to a policy of bigotry.

    Does a policy of exclusion adhere to the Boy Scout Law?

    Is a policy of denial part of the Boy Scout Oath?

  • jay2drummer

    What is the difference? In one case, you have a bias based on genetic differences which the individual has no control over. They are born that way. In the other, you have a bias based on genetic differences which the individual has no control over. They are born that way. Sounds like two incredibly different situations, right?

  • GregoryTN

    It is remarkable that “lutely” would refer to BSA as a “hate organization,” while he or she openly recommends both hatred of and criminal activity (i.e., harming both people and property) against BSA.

    As to the overall suggestion of the blog, that BSA should “learn from its own history,” I certainly believe BSA has. Indeed, the Boy Scouts have learned that an organization such as theirs, that represents traditional values of honoring one’s God, country and family, will never be tolerated by a liberal culture that either hates or seeks to redefine such things.

  • Urnso2

    Sexuality has no place in the boy scouts.

    I have nothing against gays but do not want to explain this sexual relationship (or any other) to my young son.

    Sex is a private matter that should be left in the bedroom, not youth groups.

  • Urnso2

    Are some people born adulterers?

  • WmarkW

    The Boy Scouts have had some, but much less, problem with sexual abuse than the Catholic Church has. Their gay policy is at least part of that.

    If someone wants to organize the Gay Scouts, go ahead, and leave the Hetero Scouts out of it.

  • quiensabe

    The Scouts could be wrong and Mr. Turley and Mr. Stepenson could be wrong, too. One thing, though, young African Americans are not the same as homosexuals. Approaching homosexuality as a civil right is in error and the BSA should not be forced to promote activities they find offensive.

  • Takebackourcountry

    I am an American, born and bread. I was also a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. As is the law today private clubs or institutions have the right to refuse members. This is a constitutional right to freedom of choice. The “gay rights movement” has no place in the Boy Scouts, I am interested to no how many teens really know if they are truly gay? There are so many new emotions and physical changes during adolescence, being introduced to a “gay life style” may only confuse teens even more than they already are. Additionally It is my opinion that the “Gay Rights Movement” is a group of people trying to push their pagan values into the norm. They do this by intimidation, and misinformation. Stop trying to push your immoral values on a basically moral culture of people.

  • jay2drummer

    So, should heterosexuals also be banned? After all, that’s sexuality as well.

  • jay2drummer

    Except it is a Civil Rights issue. A group is being treated as second class citizens, being denied certain rights, and facing major and wide-spread discrimination and bullying, just because they were born different.

  • jay2drummer

    A) Adulterers actually harm someone (their spouses), while gays harm nobody at all. B) The Scouts don’t ban adulterers. C) Adulterers are treated as second class citizens.

  • yatest

    No surprise–the boy scouts are wholly a subsidiary of the Mormon church.

  • sgoldpsta

    Pedophiles are different than homosexuals.

  • JoeDupont

    They once asked Murf the Surf why he robbed banks. He said:”because that’s where the money is!” You ask why Boy Scouts of America is concerned about BS leaders who like to have sex with other guys? Think about the 25 years to life sentence that , the then 16 year old, John Katehis received for killing 47 year old WABC radio star George Weber in rough sex prostitution arrangement! Why did this minor get the maximum sentence possible? To spare other Pedophiles from the similar fate?
    Influential American pedophiles go overseas to have their way with desperate lads and sometimes they bring them home. And yet to question two males adopting a young boy is deemed homophobic today. The lax manner by which Coach Jerry Sandusky was eventually brought to justice goes far beyond worrying about image of Penn State U. It is about rich and influential perverts who can even start a foundation to feed them and their friends a stream of fresh young meat. It is a matter of a society not questioning right and wrong, until it gets way,way out of hand.

  • jay2drummer

    But pedophilia has nothing to do with being gay. It has to do with power. The vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexuals and the vast majority of gays have no interest in raping little boys.

  • thesis

    Freedom of association, and freedom from association, does not equal bigot. The boy scouts are already an ethical and moral group, that’s why the homosexuals want to associate with them, so they can be perceived as ethical and moral by association. What twisted standard are you using to imply the boy scouts are not moral, while homosexual behavior (a sexual perversion where one man has annal intercourse with another man) is?

  • thesis

    Scout oath…. On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. … Yes, I think Duty to God, and being morally straight would require excluding associations with people whose behavior God calls immoral. (bad company corrupts good morals). That should quench your shame, now go do your duty to God you former scout, start by reacquainting yourself with His word, unless your oath means nothing to you.

  • thesis

    Homosexual behavior harms society…

  • thesis

    Lutelya, you are a hate organization unto yourself. Not a good idea to start atacking conservative type parents and threatening them with child welfare for raising their children with values you disagree with. Unless your intention is to ignight a civil war, I know some of these people you speak of, and frankly they would kill or be killed before they saw the likes of you or your ilk take their children from them. And they have the means and the will to protect what they cherish… Be careful what you wish for…

  • San Juan Vet

    The BSA is an organization and can’t find anything to be offensive….And it explicitly stated it didn’t find homosexuality to be offensive. This is policy is and always has been about the organized religions that prop up the BSA. When you pay lawyers to develop policy based on nuances in the wording of the Constitution and then leverage it to justify discrimination, you end up with the convoluted mess that currently exists.

  • ThomasBaum

    “Love one another as I have loved you”, is this the word or words that you are referring to be reacquainted with?

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “Yes, I think Duty to God, and being morally straight would require excluding associations with people whose behavior God calls immoral. (bad company corrupts good morals).”

    Guess it’s a good thing that God did not take your advise and instead became One of us anyway even tho you seem to think that God should not have done that.

  • jay2drummer

    Name one way it does?

  • jay2drummer

    Actually, through their bigotry, the Scouts lose their “moral” claim. Gays want to be able to join the Scouts because it is an organization meant to create leaders, to raise boys to be good people, build character, and to create bonds and friendships. I know because I am an Eagle Scout, as is my brother. Hard to imagine why gays would want to be part of that. Since there is nothing immoral about being gay, they aren’t worried about morality through association, they just want the same experiences their friends have.


    The Girl Scouts already exist. What, pray tell, are the Hetero Scouts?

  • Conservative

    If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13)

  • Conservative

    If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13)

    Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22

    Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders. (1 Corinthians 6:9)

  • Conservative

    It is clear view of Chiristanity that act of Homosexuality is sin. It is immoral act. If a Homosexual is abstainat and not praticing, mabey it should be allowed to work with the Boy Scouts. If you are a pratcing homosexual then you are not Moraly Straight. This is not a Biggoted view but a strongly heald veiw of Christan Faith guided by the Bible. The Genetic Theroy may play some role in nature vs nurture argument but that would then have to include pedofiles.

  • dcrswm

    You’d actually might be shocked to hear that most local scout groups pay little to no attention to these positions and opperate as individual entities.

  • dcrswm

    Pegan values? You do know America is NOT a christian nation right?

  • dcrswm

    Cool, but we’re not a christian nation, thank god.

  • Polsult

    Freedom of association is a “Natural Right” and protected under the Constitution. Private organizations can associate with whom they choose. All other arguments have no doctrine other than “its the right thing to do” or “can’t we all just get along”. Individuals and groups are allowed to freely associate with who they please, you may not agree with it, but it is protected under the Constitution, so get over it!

  • Polsult

    These threads always break down into – offensive…, discrimination…, christians…, pedophiles…, which have little if anything to do with the debate. The question is – Do people have the right to associate with who they want? To be offensive? To be bigots? To be stupid? Absolutely they do. So if you think the BSA is any of these things you are entitled to your opinion. Those of us active in the BSA like our policies. So while I personally hate the Nazis and what they stand for, I will support their right to stand on a street corner and spew their hate and garbage because I don’t want the government deciding who “freedom of speech” covers and who it does not! So you should think about your right to “freely associate” before you start throwing organizations like the BSA under the bus.

  • LifeScout

    The BSA does not have the right to be exclusive. It was founded for the inclusion of ALL boys. The US is the only country in the world (at least where it is not a crime to be homosexual, those countries are mostly middle eastern) that discriminates based on sexual status. Scouting is a WORLD organization, and in the rest of modern civilization, sexual orientation is not an issue.

  • LifeScout

    Absolutely, Sexuality has no place in the Boy Scouts, Heterosexual or Homosexual. So yes, keep it out. ALL boys should be given an opportunity to learn the values of Scouting.
    Perhaps all of you should take Youth Protection Training offered by the BSA. Then you will see that the protection of the boys is of the utmost importance, no matter what or whom is the threat!