Scouts may need a policy

July 07, 2000|By Neal Lavon

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled last month that the Boy Scouts cannot be forced to admit homosexuals.

But the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provided attorney Evan Wolfson to argue the case against the Scouts, wants to fight on. They hope to overturn the effect of the verdict by organizing guerrilla campaigns against the Scouts.

On its Web site, Lambda posted this advice: "Urge the many government sponsors of Boy Scout troops -- public schools, fire departments, etc. -- to withdraw their sponsorship. Urge other sponsors of Scout troops (such as United Way or public employee charity lists) to either withdraw their support (and build new, inclusive programs for youth) or advocate within Scouting for an immediate policy change to allow gay youth and adult members."

Lambda says those opposed to the verdict should be respectful of constitutional principles, but that "no court decision prevents the members, the sponsors, and others from speaking up to end discrimination."

The court ruled that the Scouts did not engage in "discrimination," and Lambda's prescriptions go far beyond just "speaking up." It appears as if the Lambda Legal Defense Fund had its day in court and lost, and now refuses to accept the results.

If Lambda is really concerned with providing gays with the joys of Scouting, how about endorsing an adolescent version of "don't ask, don't tell?"

Under the U.S. military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy, gays (and lesbians) can stay in the armed forces so long as they do not engage in off-duty sexual activity or exhibit displays of affection with members of the same gender. They cannot make any statements about their sexual orientation because the military presumes that such statements indicate a likely violation of the ban on same-sex intimacy.

Activists say "don't ask, don't tell" forces gays in the military to be celibate. But the policy applies to young, sexually active adults while the Scouts' membership is composed of young boys, two-thirds of whom are between 7 and 11.

A 1998 online survey by !Out Proud!, the National Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, and Oasis magazine, indicated that gays on average, realize their sexual orientation between the ages of 12 and 14, and feel comfortable enough to tell family and friends by 16.

While 17 percent of the respondents said they had their first same-sex encounter before the age of 12, about 55 percent said theirs came between 14 and 18. So, for the vast majority of Scouts, sexual orientation -- or activity -- is not likely to be an issue.

But older Scouts and scoutmasters who are gay face a dilemma.

James Dale, the former Eagle Scout who brought the case, was an assistant scoutmaster when he was elected co-president of the Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance. He later gave interviews to newspapers using his new title. Before his involvement at Rutgers, his scoutmaster had no idea of Mr. Dale's sexual orientation.

It was Mr. Dale's public activities that led to his dismissal.

But what if he had adopted a civilian form of "don't ask, don't tell"? Suppose he did not make his sexual orientation so public. What if he lived his sexual life quietly and far removed from the Scouts? What if he didn't seek publicity by running for election to the Lesbian/Gay Alliance's co-presidency? No doubt somewhere in Scouts history, this type of scenario was enacted.

Like so many other things in life, it's a compromise. I headed an elementary school newspaper club for two years. My politics were very different than those of the education establishment. It would have been awkward if I went out of my way to publicize those views while volunteering in the school. Working with the kids was more important to me, so I held off.

Perhaps gays and lesbians are tired of compromising. But gays can remain in the Scouts if they "don't tell." This precludes being an activist, but not everyone aspires to that role. Although it's a painful decision, both sides could gain.

Nevertheless, gay organizations should not work behind the scenes to subvert the decision that they helped bring about.

Neal Lavon covers domestic and foreign issues for the Voice of America in Washington. The views expressed are his own.

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