Nearly a month ago, the Boy Scouts of America made an official statement containing “a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone.” This means, specifically, that openly gay teenage boys that meet all other membership requirements (including no sexual conduct) cannot be denied membership in the BSA program.
Previous to this, open or avowed homosexuals were not granted membership nor could they be involved in leadership positions. Openly gay adults are still not allowed to be leaders.
For the past 100 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has enjoyed a strong relationship with Boy Scouts of America, based on our mutual interest in helping boys and young men understand and live their duty to God and develop upright moral behavior. As the Church moves forward in its association with the Boy Scouts of America, Church leaders will continue to seek the most effective ways to address the diverse needs of young people in the United States and throughout the world.
The Church’s long-established policy for participation in activities is stated in the basic instructional handbook used by lay leaders of the Church: “young men … who agree to abide by Church standards” are “welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church , 8.17.3). This policy applies to Church-sponsored Scout units. Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.
These standards are outlined in the booklet For the Strength of Youth and include abstinence from sexual relationships. We remain firmly committed to upholding these standards and to protecting and strengthening boys and young men.
The Church appreciates BSA’s reaffirmation of its commitment to “duty to God,” which includes service to others and moral behavior—central principles of our teaching to young men. As in the past, the Church will work with BSA to harmonize what Scouting has to offer with the varying needs of our young men. We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner.
Overall, this is a good statement of solidarity and founded on principles based on morality that have nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation. I only have two concerns.
The first is the wording of the sentence that states that “Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.” In an ‘official’ sense, I believe that this is absolutely true. However, the wording of this sentence makes it sound as if homosexuality has historically never been an issue at all, and I’m not so sure that’s true.
The other concern I have is the somewhat misleading citation from the Church Handbook. To begin with, this section cited comes from a section titled “Young Men of Other Faiths.” The section itself seems primarily focused on the handling of finances for such individuals, but what’s missing in the ellipsis in citation is that this is addressed to young men of other faiths, i.e. nonmembers.
In all my experience with scouting and young men’s activities in the church, I never saw this policy enforced. There was no Church standards test for participation eligibility for either young men in the ward or those of other faiths (of which there were few in my Utah adolescence). I’m okay that the Church demands that those who participate in these activities be living their standards as long as it is enforced fairly. I worry that it’s going to be easier to deny participation to a gay youth that has transgressed a standard than it will be to a straight boy who just messed around with a girl over the weekend.
Even beyond this, though, is the question of why are they citing a section that discusses youth of other faiths? Certainly there are gay Mormon boys, no? This is confusing to me. I’ve not read the whole Handbook, but is there a similar standards requirement for LDS youth? Again, I’ve never seen one enforced if so. I never had a worthiness interview before I went on a scout camp or other activity.
I’m glad to see that this statement focuses on ‘what we do’ rather than on ‘who we are.’ Gay or straight, it shouldn’t matter if you’re being chaste, and the church’s statement is right up this alley. I hope that it’s put into practice in a similar manner and that gay scouts become a non-issue.
Hopefully one day the BSA (and the church, for that matter) will also realize that an openly-gay leader that lives up to standards is also no less worthy than an openly-straight one. Eventually society will understand that an openly-gay individual is merely a person that’s not hiding the fact that they are attracted to others of the same sex. In other words, there is absolutely nothing in being openly gay that implies that one lives a raucous, immoral life full of wicked sexual encounters. It also doesn’t imply that an openly gay individual is out to corrupt youth with their predatory or dangerous world-views. Look at all the range of people that you know that are openly heterosexual. Why should openly-gay people encompass a smaller slice of the morality pie?
We’re not there yet, but this is a small step in the right direction.