The Boy Scouts can do better

Larisa Manescu

On its website, the Boy Scouts of America claims that it helps build the future leaders of America. If this is true, its May 23 decision to end the organization’s ban on openly gay youth may have a monumental impact on the mindset straight men have toward their homosexual peers — not just during their Scouting years, but as they move into adulthood and end up on college campuses like UT-Austin’s, where LGBTQ students still face challenges in finding acceptance.

In the past, the BSA has publicly stated that being homosexual is a violation of the Boy Scout Oath, which promotes being “morally straight.” However, the vague definition of the term “morally straight” provided by the organization (to “live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character”) includes no mention of sexual preference, making the Boy Scout Oath appear like a constitution with multiple interpretations.

Robert Dewar, a second year medical student at UT-Houston and a former Scout of Troop 17 of Fort Worth, said that the BSA’s interpretation of its oath in the case of gay youth made no sense. 

“I feel like it is a bastardization of the Scout Oath to say that ‘morally straight’ is referring to sexuality and that homosexuals aren't ‘morally straight’. Being ‘morally straight’ obligates Scouts to make ethically sound decisions in order to be exemplary human beings; who I bring to my bedroom really has nothing to do with morality,” Dewar, who supports the lifting of the ban, said.

The decision to lift the ban on gay youth, however, does not apply to adult volunteers for the organization.

Steven LaBelle, a biomedical engineering sophomore and a former Scout, disagrees with the Scouts not including gay adults in the recent decision.

“It wouldn't have mattered if the leader were gay. Something I noticed when scouting was that I felt more comfortable and safer around leaders who were parents — it was the adult leaders who didn't have children in the organization that seemed strange to me,” LaBelle said. “As long as a leader had a child in the organization I wouldn't even pay attention to the leader's sexual orientation … From what I have noticed, the Scouts themselves do not care as much about the orientation of their fellow Scouters. The adults, on the other hand, seem more divided by their religious and political affiliations,” LaBelle said.

Torsten Knabe, a UT alumnus from the class of 2012 and gay former Scout of Troop 473 of Dallas, feels the effects of the ban on homosexual adult volunteers in the BSA more directly: As an openly gay man, he cannot volunteer as a scout leader, a restriction he says will keep him from letting his future children participate in Scouts.

 “I started as a Tiger Cub with my stepdad and it was an incredible bonding experience where I learned many valuable leadership skills I've taken with me the rest of my life,” Knabe said. “I'd like to share that same experience with my own kids when and if I have them. I hope that by the time I have kids of scouting age their [the BSA’s] policy will be fully inclusive.”

Knabe came out during his time at UT and said that though he loved queer culture at the University, the vast differences among the queer community resulted in a lack of cohesion on campus; While some LGBTQ students find their niche easily, others still struggle to find a “safe place” on the 40 Acres.

“One of my friends is an undocumented gay Latino guy just coming out to himself and his friends, many of whom are … undocumented and straight,” Knabe said. “His experience as a gay person at UT is very different than another one of my friends, who is a white transgender man who was assigned to live in Kinsolving with a female roommate and got stared at every time he went to the bathroom or was in the hallway in his own dorm at night.”

The BSA has a great opportunity to instill values of open acceptance in young men from an early age, a potential antidote to the struggles queer men and women encounter when they enter college. Many other youth organizations take a neutral stance on homosexuality, a big step up from explicitly prohibiting it.

The Girl Scouts of the USA, for example, allows openly lesbian leaders, as addressed in its guarded but fair policy statement on the matter: “As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”

If young Scouts are already accepting of, or at least unconcerned about, the sexual orientation of their peers, adult leaders should support that instead of persuading them otherwise. As an institution that shapes the malleable minds of many young Scouts, the BSA should do its part to shift society’s view toward acceptance of homosexuality.

Manescu is an international relations and global studies sophomore from Ploiesti, Romania.