Twelve years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center stopped participating in the Montgomery, Ala., United Way campaign because the organization chose to fund the Boy Scouts of America despite its policy of excluding LGBT people from its ranks.
We clearly could not support such discrimination. We were not alone. Some United Way chapters across the country chose to drop the Boy Scouts as beneficiaries of their fundraising campaigns.
Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts of America has decided recently to keep the policy in place. That’s a mistake, one that will reverberate far beyond the realm of scouting. It’s unfortunate that an organization that has meant so much to millions of boys and young men and that has epitomized the values of honesty, integrity and character has chosen to continue a policy that’s antithetical to our nation’s ideals of equality.
Allowing LGBT people to serve in leadership positions will not endanger children. The American Psychological Association has stated unequivocally that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men.” And there is absolutely no reason to fear the prospect of a gay youth becoming a boy scout.
But this is about more than scouting. It’s about a major, well-respected American institution continuing to endorse the belief that LGBT people are second-class citizens. Many people will believe that if the Boy Scouts of America is excluding LGBT people, it must be OK.
Of course, the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t intend to encourage bigotry. But such policies can have that effect.
We see the impact of anti-LGBT bigotry in schools across the country, where bullying is rampant. It’s easy to understand why a child might engage in such behavior when he sees adults treat LGBT people as undeserving of basic rights. As adults, we must never forget that children learn by our example.
Anti-LGBT bigotry also can lead to horrible hate crimes. Two years ago, the SPLC analyzed 14 years of federal hate crime data and found that LGBT people, and those perceived to be gay, are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States. We shouldn’t be surprised by that finding, given that so many people in positions of authority – politicians, pundits and others – portray LGBT people as dangerous.
The good news is that despite the persistence of prejudice, we’re witnessing a sea change in the attitudes of Americans toward gay men and lesbians. More and more people are realizing that they aren’t some shadowy threat but rather our friends, our family members, our neighbors and our co-workers. They’re people who deserve the same rights and privileges as everyone else.
It’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to realize it, too.