News that the Boy Scouts of America is considering lifting the ban on gay participants and leaders is undoubtedly great news to the boys or adult leaders who have recently made news because they were kicked out of the organization or were unable to be awarded their Eagle (even after completing all of the requirements) for being openly gay. It would also be good news for my family—and for the many other Unitarian Universalist families who have been allowing their children to be active in their local Boy Scout troops while actively working on efforts that would trickle up to the national organization.
Sure, the policy change BSA is contemplating falls far short of the ideal many are still calling for, which would be a strong statement against antigay bigotry. The new policy would no longer dictate excluding gays from local scouting groups. But local sponsoring organizations could still prohibit participation by people who are openly gay.
Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout who was raised by two mothers as a Unitarian Universalist, welcomed the policy change and said he looks forward to helping chartered organizations end exclusion. “This would be an incredible step forward in the right direction,” said Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality and the initiator of a petition requesting the reconsideration of the ban which garnered 1.2 million signatures. He has also said publicly that he believes if the national organization drops its anti-gay policy, local organizations will “welcome gays with open arms.” (UU World profiled Wahls last year; also see Wahls’s UU World essay about his sudden fame as a advocate of LGBT rights.)
A step forward, yes, and in the right direction. We can’t always expect giant leaps. This first step can open many doors to other changes, including the renunciation of BSA’s announcement in 1998 that the Unitarian Universalist Association could no longer award its Religion in Life emblem to its Boy Scouts and that no Unitarian Universalist Boy Scout who had previously earned it was allowed to wear it.
Only half of the dispute between the BSA and the UUA was over Scouting’s anti-gay policy. Since Unitarian Universalist congregations do not require their members to hold specific beliefs about the nature or existence of any deity, the Religion in Life materials assured those Unitarian Universalist scouts who might have a conflict with pledging their duty “to God” that people mean many things when they use the word God and one need not necessarily hold a traditional belief in a deity who acts in the world to say the Boy Scout Pledge (or the Pledge of Allegiance, for that matter). The national organization of Boys Scouts did not like that thinking or, apparently, the notion of real religious pluralism, which includes free-thinkers, non-believers, and pagans—even though they say that a Scout is “faithful in his religious duties and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.”
However, it is possible that the Scouts will not even take the step they’ve proposed, as many Evangelical and self-defined Bible-based churches have threatened to withdraw their support for local troops if the national ban is dropped. This could be a problem because 70 percent of all troops are sponsored by faith-based organizations. This spiteful and obviously manipulative act could mean thousands of boys who benefit from participation in the organization would be left at loose ends.
If this does occur, I hope that Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country will open their doors and welcome their local Boy Scout troops in as a sign of support for the steps taken by the national organization.
In the meantime, we can still call 972-580-2330 and say “I am for the policy change.” If you can’t get through, email your support for lifting the ban to nationalsupportcenter [at] scouting [dot] org.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).