Last week, the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America made a proposition: Yes to gay youth and no to gay leaders.
After “the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history,” the BSA’s executive committee conceded gay boys interested in joining the Scouts should be permitted to join. The Mormon Church, a strong supporter of the BSA, quickly endorsed the “compromise.”
Of course, many activists and supporters of gay rights are not content. Some believe accepting gay youth, while banning gay adults from BSA leadership, implies an unavoidable impropriety inherently exists between openly gay adults and the youth they mentor.
Others believe it is a slap in the face for gay adults in general, whom the BSA and the Mormon Church are unwilling to recognize as morally straight. Others, however, contend the BSA’s move is a step in the right direction.
However, this isn’t about social change or religious freedom. This is about a finely tuned business model that is being forced out of the closet. The Boy Scout’s proposal simply accommodates institutions that have depended on the BSA brand to attract young men and their families into their folds, plain and simple.
The Mormon Church does not follow the lead of repulsive organizations like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which peddle junk science to “repair” homosexuals. But don’t expect Mormons to embrace and promote pride among gay youth, either. Today, the formula favored for Heavenly Father involves at least one man and one woman.
If Mormon Church leaders can keep gay adult leaders out of the equation for a while, there is a possibility their scout leaders may reach at least some self-identified gay youth and steer them in another direction – toward the church. After all, youth ministers traditionally serve as the scoutmasters of troops in religious organizations and the Church of Latter-day Saints has an incredibly robust, proselyting missionary movement.
If a Mormon troop leader suspects a boy is exhibiting certain “negative” proclivities, their emphasis is likely to shift from what is moral to what is straight before the next merit badge is issued. Of course, LDS church members never refer to their activities as recruitment, even though there are an estimated 50,000 missionaries around the globe.
Gays and lesbians have been dodging the word recruitment in response to insidious accusations they convert others to homosexuality in precisely the same way Mormons do not want us to perceive their missionaries when they knock on our doors. No one likes the idea of being converted to anything, and everyone knows it.
My husband and I were Boy Scouts at the same time, in different places. His troop met in a dedicated building in a city park run by the Kiwanis. I enjoyed a scouting experience sponsored by the local LDS Church. My husband’s troop went camping in places like Grayton Beach State Park in Grayton Beach, FL. My troop went to Palmyra, NY where optional activities included the Mormon Hill Cumorah Pageant where I learned about ancient Israelites who were commanded by God to journey to America.
I don’t fault the Mormon Church for this recruitment practice. In fact, I had fun with my troop. My mother – single at the time – knew I was somewhere safe and was able to get me out of her hair for a week.
I don’t know if I was gay at the time, or if I even thought about being gay. What I did know was that most of the guys I was earning merit badges with were getting together in the same place our troop met on Sundays too.
The BSA’s consideration of this new policy is about a good faith effort. It’s about people, making a good faith effort, to hold on to traditional ways of perpetuating their beliefs. The longer the BSA and LDS can distract us with complicated scenarios about who will sleep with whom in what tent, they can dodge accusations of indoctrination and avoid being open about who they really are — and what the desired outcome of their supporter’s Boy Scout programs really is.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and Palm Beach County. He can be reached at TonyPlakas@post.harvard.edu and you can follow him on twitter @TonyPlakas.
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