Intolerance Will Get You Nowhere

The Boy Scouts are in trouble in my hometown. Their 18-acre camp and council headquarters facility in Balboa Park is leased to them by the city for a buck a year, and that preferential treatment is now under fire in the courts due to the BSA’s official policies that exclude gays and atheists from the organization.

I was a Boy Scout, and attained the top rank of Eagle. It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it: By the time I exited the program at the age of eighteen, I had learned not only the typical outdoorsy stuff that most folks associate with the Scouts; I also knew how to comport myself in job interviews, could run a business-style meeting, could speak extemporaneously in front of large groups of people, and so forth. Most people don’t understand how a properly-run Scout troop functions: They don’t know that the boys really do in fact run the show. They plan the events, they run the meetings — the whole nine yards. The adult leaders are basically there to provide guidance and sit back and watch young men learn how to make decisions and act like adults. Tying knots and pitching tents is entirely secondary.

So it hurts to hear the organization described as “para-military” and such. You hear a lot of this nonsense — and it is utter nonsense — in a progressive/liberal place like the Bay Area. But it hurts more to hear the Scouts described as exclusionary and bigoted. It hurts more, of course, because it has come to be absolutely, unequivocally true. (The truth always hurts more.)

Why can’t Scouts get with the program and become more tolerant? Here’s a dirty little secret I’ll bet you don’t know: For more than fifteen years now, the national council (where the big policy decisions get made) has been controlled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This state of affairs came about because LDS churches all sponsor Scout troops, and all Mormon boys are pushed into Scouting and are required to become Eagles. So large are their numbers that if the Mormons packed up and left the organization, things would fall apart. But the hard line they require on God and gays is also doing frightful, permanent damage to a worthwhile institution.

There is no escape for Scouting. It is a doomed movement.

The issue of excluding gays was just beginning to come to a boil when I left the Scouts. At the time, my dad was heavily involved in the volunteer adult leadership at the local council level, and, at one particular meeting, was subjected to a tirade about the anti-gay policy, and some literature on the subject (and how to “properly” explain the policy to others) was handed to him. He refused to take it, and voiced a reply that I will remember for its simplicity and eloquence and principle until the day I die. “I don’t pimp for bigots,” my father said, and left.

My first night camping was spent at Camp Balboa. I’m sorry that the Scouts may lose that beautiful oasis, but even in conservative San Diego, there is no justifying civic support of intolerance. That’s the way things are in the 21st century. It’s a shame that in many ways, the Scouts are still clinging to 19th century values.