Brave step by Boy Scouts
The vagaries of public opinion being what they are, it is probably safe to assume that – had modern polling methods been available throughout human history, and in all the disparate pockets of human civilization scattered about the globe – a majority of respondents in some cultures at some times, would have supported (or still do support) some of the following practices and beliefs:
Cannibalism; slavery; medicinal blood-letting; infanticide; the worship of cats; the existence and persecution of werewolves and witches; passing newborn babies through a rind of cheese; prohibiting women from voting or owning property; stoning women to death for being raped; eating shark fins, rhino horns, bear gall bladders, tiger penises and dried geckoes for virility and improved health; the existence of dragons; that the sun travels around the Earth and the Earth is flat; that the Earth is 8,000 years old; that copper bracelets cure arthritis; that cigarettes are healthy and soothe the throat; and that an extraterrestrial named Xenu captured the souls of billions of aliens, brought them to Earth and blew most of them up with hydrogen bombs.
We could go on.
All these practices and beliefs have roots in human fear, superstition and ignorance. And most of them (sadly, not all) have, to one degree or another, been outgrown.
Which brings us to the attitudes toward and the treatment of people who are attracted to and most comfortable with others of the same sex.
Homosexuality has a long and tortuous history – interspersed with occasional islands of enlightenment – largely because it invokes fear in people who don’t know how to address it or aren’t clear how they feel about it themselves. And what we fear, of course, we punish, ban, deny, persecute and reject.
People who meet the clinical definition of homosexuality, therefore, have been assumed to be aberrant, sinful, suspect, deviant and not to be trusted with children. Never mind that psychiatric and criminal justice statistics do not support the once-popular belief (thank you Anita Bryant) that gay men tend to be pedophiles preying on young boys.
But old, false beliefs die hard and are sometimes most enduring within our most revered institutions, like the church and the Boy Scouts of America.
We have come a long way since 1970 when a large majority of Americans agreed with Anita Bryant that gay men should not be allowed to teach our children. We still have a ways to go.
And recently, the Boy Scouts of America, took a brave step in the right direction when its national leadership announced that its ban on gay membership was set for elimination, perhaps as soon as this week. That won’t necessarily mean a wave of gay scouts flooding the membership; the decision on admission will cease being a national policy, but will become instead the choice of each chartered organization.
Still, it appears the floodgates have been breached, even as individual chapters continue beating at BSA doors. A gay, 18-year-old former scout from California is the focus of an effort to be granted an Eagle Scout badge and surely more such cases will follow.
It is time.