In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Boy Scouts didn’t go far enough

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

It was a historic decision and we can call it progress — the right thing to do for the children — but that’s all.

Voting via secret ballot, 61 percent of the approximately 1,400 local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America gathered in Texas wisely chose to open the organization’s ranks to openly gay boys.

Hurray.

The end of a loathsome discriminatory practice is always a cause for celebration, and more so when the group involved is not only the oldest but, along with the Girl Scouts of America, one of the most revered youth organizations in the country.

But the ban on gay boys is only one aspect of the group’s anti-gay policy. Gay children may participate for the first time ever when the policy change becomes effective Jan. 1 – but not gay parents.

Gay adults still cannot be part of the organization by doing all the things parents do: sponsoring troops and taking leadership roles in the organization. Grown-up Boy Scouts or Eagle Scouts who are gay cannot move on to leadership roles in scouting.

At 18, they’re out.

What kind of message does that send to children? A wrong and hurtful message that if you’re gay, or your parent is gay, there’s something wrong with you and him or her.

Plus, what parent would allow their children — gay or straight — to be part of an organization that discriminates against them?

The ban on gay parents affects three million same-sex parents who will continue to be excluded from participating as scout leaders, said Brian Winfield, managing director of Equality Florida.

“Perhaps the BSA should bestow half a merit badge on itself for having the courage to ‘almost’ do the right thing,” he said.

Half a merit badge, indeed.

Admitting gay adults was not even up for a vote.

And so while the most conservative sectors in the Boys Scouts have vowed to fight the lifting of the children’s half of the ban and/or leave the organization, those who want equality in scouting continue to push for change, one that is in step with most Americans.

“I support the decision to allow openly gay youth, but will continue speaking out until gay leaders and parents are also allowed,” says Scoutmaster James Happell, a University of Miami research professor who launched one of the petition drives that helped change minds and bring about the historic vote.

The ban of gay adults is rooted in ancient fears and religious taboos: fear that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked — a villainous belief that negates all the modern-day research about sexual predators. And Judeo-Christian beliefs that God finds homosexuality unacceptable.

Scouting is not about sexuality, however, but about developing leadership skills and aptitude for honorable service.

Discrimination is not honorable. The question is: how can there not be a place in scouting for everyone?

The best — and real — landmark decision would have been to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, period, as the Girl Scouts have embraced.

Perhaps this decision was only a change of mind, but not yet a change of heart.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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