A day after the BSA’s widely expected decision to end its ban on gay and lesbian leaders, there’s probably little more that needs to be said. Some have praised the decision by the National Executive Board, and others have panned it–either because it goes too far or because it doesn’t go too far enough. I’m sure countless men are even now boxing up their Eagle Scout badges to mail them to the national office in protest, while countless other men and women are searching for the old uniforms they were forced to shed when they came out (or were outed) as homosexuals. (If they’re like the rest of us, they’ll probably discover that those uniforms have shrunk a bit around the middle!)
I personally think the BSA made the right decision at the right time, but I’m pretty sure a single blog post won’t change anyone’s mind. I’m also mindful of the pain this decision will cause many of my friends, including a few Scout executives who serve in the Southern Region.
If I can’t offer an argument, what can I offer? Perhaps a little perspective.
Yesterday’s decision brought to mind Catherine Pollard, pictured above, who fought a similar battle for inclusiveness in an earlier decade. No, Pollard wasn’t a lesbian. (When she died, she left behind three children, 10 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren!) Instead, she became the BSA’s first official female Scoutmaster after a decade-long legal battle. (As with gay leaders, the BSA won the legal battle but conceded the war.)
Did this seminal event happen in 1968 in the midst of the civil rights movement? No. Did it happen in 1978 at the height of the women’s liberation movement? No. It happened in 1988, just 27 years ago. Until then, the BSA still argued that only men could serve as uniformed troop leaders. (We shouldn’t feel too bad, however; it took until today for an NFL team to hire its first female coach–and she’ll only work with the Arizona Cardinals’ inside linebackers during training camp and the preseason.)
I’m sure many Scouters thought the sky was falling when the doors were open to Catherine Pollard. And the BSA did have to deal with the inconvenience of creating separate bathroom facilities and changing a method of Boy Scouting from “adult male association” to “adult association.”
But guess what? Scouting survived. And today, some of the strongest Scoutmasters (and Scout executives and volunteers at every level of the program) are women.
In announcing its 1988 decision, the BSA made the following statement:
It is time to recognize that in our changing society the unique strength of Scouting lies in the dedicated efforts of both men and women. Our efforts must be focused on helping chartered organizations select the best possible leadership, male or female, to carry forward a Scouting program that serves the youth and adults for whom the organizations are responsible.
The long-standing tradition of providing exclusively male leadership to adolescent boys in Boy Scouting was rooted in the belief that a crucial part of a boy’s development as he grows older is his relationship with a caring adult male. Scouting has provided a structure in which men can interact with boys in a non-threatening way, more as friends or mentors than as authority figures. Under this new policy, community-based organizations that use the Scouting program will continue to select the best available leadership for boys in Scouting, but with an even larger pool of potential leaders from which to choose.
The criteria used to select unit leadership are now, more than ever, in the hands of the individual organization that is using Scouting as a resource. All recommendations for commissions to serve in unit leadership roles shall originate with the unit committee. The heads of the community unit committee and the local council must approve the registration of the leader. The importance of selecting the most qualified person available to be the unit’s leader cannot be overly stressed.
That statement, with a few wording changes, could easily have been recycled for yesterday’s announcement. As was the case 27 years ago, chartered organizations can now “select the best available leadership for boys in Scouting, but with an even larger pool of potential leaders from which to choose.”
And isn’t selected the best leaders–and putting our Scouts first–what we should all be focused on? As a wise Scouter once told me, “If it’s not for the boys, it’s for the birds.”
Note: There’s a great place to argue about this and other weight issues. It’s called the real world. If you do choose to comment below, remember that a Scout is courteous.