If you ask the Boy Scouts of America, adult gay men are trolls. Not trolls like you find on the Internet, clogging up comments sections, but trolls like the kind that live under bridges and corrupt children. That's the message being sent by a new policy proposed by the organization, that would allow gay scouts under the age of 21 but maintain a ban on openly gay troop leaders.
This is meant to be a compromise of sorts: under increasing public pressure, and a slew of high-profile news stories on long-time Scouts being booted for being gay, the BSA debated last year whether to lift its ban on including gay people. The measure failed, leading some local groups to break away from the national organization and putting even more of a burden on the BSA to modernize. So, after polling parents and scouts, they came up with the aforementioned bargain: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." In case you don't speak legalese, "alone" is the preferred modifying loophole for those hoping to discriminate down the road.
The policy, created by top Scouts brass and to be voted on during the group's conference in May, is somewhat of a break from the blanket ban on gays that that has defined the Christian-oriented organization for decades. The acceptance of gay scouts is great, because more and more people are coming out at a younger age — the average these days is about 16 — and many of those people are still young enough to work their way up the Boy Scouts' ranks. But then what? They grow up and are given the bum's rush. It's OK to be gay, but only for a little while, they're told.
"Youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life," reads the proposed policy, perhaps with the hope that gay teens will outgrow their nature, or at least suppress it.
And to guarantee no gay men slip into leadership positions unnoticed, like by starting as a Cub Scout and dedicating their lives to becoming an Eagle Scout, the group's highest rank, BSA officials plan to null-and-void dissidents' Eagle status. The new rules read, "Only those who have been granted the Eagle Scout Award by, and who are members in good standing with, the Boy Scouts of America may hold membership in the National Eagle Scout Association." We gays of course are not in good standing with the BSA. Once you reach the age of 21, you're out if you're out of the closet.
The Scouts' proposal is the opposite of It Gets Better, the PSA series that tells bullied LGBT youth that "it," life, improves. The Scouts' proposal screams, you, the gay, get worse. In other words, gay men age terribly, becoming not responsible, well-adjusted, and respectable adults, but instead morph into the negative stereotype of a predatory gay man hellbent on perverting the nation's young. We're unwholesome.
The BSA's core leadership, such as BSA National President Wayne Perry, deserve a huge amount of criticism for this broken bargain, yes, but they're not entirely alone. This policy mirrors parental opinions. The BSA found that 48% of parents support the ban on gay Scout Masters. This is down from 57% three years ago, so clearly the gap is shrinking, but can it even further reduced?
The obvious answer here is that time will heal these wounds: the number one factor in changing minds on gay people is knowing a gay person. As more people come out, more people will know gay people and the nation will, one hopes, evolve to a more inclusive place. But the Scouts probably don't have that kind of time. Even if they do vote to allow gay scouts, this cynical move and their decades of discrimination may have weakened their public image to the point of disrepair. They may very well become a group solely for those who approve of exclusion, devolving into something far removed from their core of being a good American citizen.