Time for the Boy Scouts of America to earn their most important merit badge yet — righteousness.
This iconic institution in a neckerchief has marched all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to reinforce its right to keep openly gay and lesbian adults from participating in the Scouting tradition. At long last, they are thinking twice about that ban.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation” is the statement the Boy Scouts of America National Council released Monday.
Welcome to this century, Scouts.
What was once a staple of American boyhood — knots, camping, pinewood derby cars — has become, for too many, a symbol of intolerance based on thinking born of a time when you actually did have to know how to start a fire with a couple of sticks.
I hate it and I don't agree with it, but I believe the Scouts' leadership believed equating homosexuals with pedophiles would end their child abuse problems.
Last fall, I spent many long, dark days buried in about 2,000 pages of sex abuse reports from the Boys Scouts' “perversion files,” a trove of documents that the Scouts amassed to hunt and snare the child abusers preying on their boys. The files, compiled since the 1920s, were private until a court ruling forced many of them into the light last year. The stories, interviews and incidents were stomach-churning. Some of the reports were even written in the boys' own awkward handwriting. And the pattern I saw emerge was consistent with some of the skewed thinking of the time.
“Homosexual” was the conclusion reached on many investigations of pedophile Scout leaders. Whether it was evidence of a same-sex liaison, fey behavior or visit to a known gay bar, that was enough to get someone a perversion file.
In some cases, there was an arrest and a conviction for the rape of a child. And still, the label some of them got on the mimeographed perversion file form was not “pedophile” or “criminal” or “rapist.” Just “homosexual.” At some point, after hundreds and hundreds of incident reports — cases where the abuser was almost always a man molesting a boy — the Boy Scouts' leaders must have simply figured that banning gay men would solve their problem.
But guess what? The abuse didn't stop. Homosexual does not mean pedophile. It didn't back then, and it doesn't now.
Hundreds of young boys were supposed to be protected by blind hope and the elimination of anyone who was openly gay from the organization. Meanwhile, predators slipped in beneath the Scouting council's gaydar.
According to the court files, the molesters were fathers who abused Scouts as well as their own children — boys and girls. Men who had macho jobs and loved to talk about porn got away with sexual abuse for years. And married men, prominent in their communities and professions, fooled them all.
Meanwhile, mom Jennifer Tyrrell was kicked out of her spot as a Tiger Den mother in Bridgeport, Ohio, last year after the Scouts' leadership council found out she is openly lesbian. The families of her own pack loved her community-minded and active leadership of the boys and fought for her reinstatement.
But in a Mad Men — or maybe even Downton Abbey — move, the Scouts said no way and quoted their ancient, creaking policy of not allowing “avowed homosexuals” into their ranks.
Then a kid in California, Ryan Andresen, had his Eagle Scout application denied last fall after he came out. And a gay dad in Texas was kicked off the popcorn committee.
Hearing of all these incidents, and seeing the Boy Scouts stick to their ban long after “Queer Eye” hit prime time and same-sex soldiers said “I do,” scared lots of parents away from Scouting. Parents like me and my husband — both of us had great experiences as Scouts — suddenly felt conflicted about continuing the tradition as the Scouts' stubbornness made them a symbol of hate.
The national council, it appears, is listening to the grass-roots groundswell. Capitol Hill's Troop 500 posted on its website its refusal to acknowledge the national ban, as have many others.
When they were organized in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America were there “to teach boys patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues.” Took them a long time, but it looks like they may be finally coming back to those founding ideas. One hundred years later, you may have finally earned your courage badge, Scouts.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for the Washington Post.