Thursday, October 18, 2012

Boy Scouts Earns Badge in Homophobia

Jennifer Tyrrell was kicked out as a Cub Scout den mother in March because she was accused of being a lesbian. The Boy Scouts of America removed her from her volunteer position in Ohio, telling her that "her sexual orientation 'did not meet the high standards' of conduct set by the Boy Scouts of America." (

In July, a committee of scout executives and volunteers formed in 2010 concluded unanimously that the anti-gay policy was best for the organization, according to national spokesman Deron Smith. "He said it represented 'a diversity of perspectives and opinions,' but did not name the members of that committee." (

Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and son of Iowa lesbians, accused BSA of basing its decision on a committee of "11 unelected, unnamed bureaucrats. Why not put out a call and make it a democratic process?" he said to "Why have a secretive committee make the decision?... We don't know who the people are -- they are not named and they are not willing to accept responsibility for their actions."

The exclusion policy was challenged in 2000, but the Supreme Court sided with Boy Scouts and its ban. It ruled 5-4 that the organization was exempt from state laws that bar anti-gay discrimination, overturning a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court to require a troop to readmit a gay longtime scoutmaster who had been dismissed. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who will be president of BSA in 2014, said he was committed to ending the ban.

BSA emailed to a prepared statement regarding its exclusion policy, saying it is dedicated to "delivering a program of character development and leadership training. Scouting, and the majority of parents it serves, does not believe it is the right forum for children to become aware of the issue of sexual orientation, or engage in discussions about being gay. Rather, such complex matters should be discussed with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting."

Like at night in the scoutmaster's house?

"In hundreds of cases, scout leaders allowed boys to drive cars, drink alcohol or look at pornography. They gradually tested physical boundaries during skinny dipping, group showers, sleepovers and one-on-one activities."  (

That finding is based on the court-ordered release of 1,900 confidential files opened between 1970 and 1991. "The thousands of men expelled from the Boy Scouts of America came from all walks of life — teachers and plumbers, doctors and bus drivers, politicians and policemen. They ranged in age from teens to senior citizens and came from every state."

The confidential files, kept by the Scouts for nearly 100 years, were intended to bar suspected molesters from the organization. The Los Angeles Times obtained two decades of papers, submitted as evidence in a court case, as well as case summaries from an additional 3,100 files opened between 1947 and 2005. The dossiers contain biographical data, legal records, scouting correspondence, boys’ accounts of alleged abuse, and media reports and represent all surviving files kept by BSA as of January 2005. The organization has destroyed an unknown number of files. Hundreds more from the 1960s to the 1980s will be released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court.

"John McGrew was a Dallas scoutmaster who had been recognized as teacher of the year and received a proclamation from City Hall for his work with disadvantaged youths. Two months before he was arrested on molestation charges, he was featured in Scouting Magazine, where his supervisor praised his 'personal dedication and genuine love for these kids.'

"In 1988, 16 boys testified that McGrew abused them. He was convicted on several counts and sentenced to life in prison." In more than 50 cases, scout leaders were alleged to have abused 10 or more boys by the time they were expelled. Darrald Timmie Ostopowich, an assistant scoutmaster in Los Angeles, admitted he had sex with more than 50 boys, most of whom were Cub Scouts, in four years.

So then does a ban on gay leaders and scouts protect boys? Although scouting officials declined to be interviewed for the cited article by the LA Times, the organization released a prepared statement by Mike Johnson, BSA's national youth protection director. "There is no profile of a potential abuser. This is precisely why, in addition to using these files as a background screening tool, scouting requires a multitiered approach to youth protection, including criminal background checks, two adult leaders at all activities and the training of all youth in personal safety awareness, including teaching them to recognize, resist and report abuse.”

Nowhere in his statement does he suggest banning gays and lesbians will reduce the risk. "University of Virginia psychiatry professor Janet Warren concluded that 'there was little information in the files concerning the techniques used … to 'groom' their alleged child victims' and no clear risk factors to help screen out molesters."

Nevertheless, the Boy Scouts continue to discriminate against homosexuals, even though there are "no clear risk factors." According to a Times analysis, more than half of those identified by the released files as child molesters were married.

If this controversy isn't already a crisis, it probably soon will be. It reminds me of the ill-advised cut in funding from Susan G. Komen for the Cure to Planned Parenthood because an outspoken abortion opponent pushed it through the board. Why make trouble for yourself with a policy that only serves to stir controversy where none needs to exist?  I wish Boy Scouts would go back to pinning achievement badges on kids instead of sewing scarlet letters on men, women, and excluded  scout members.

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