Gays in the Boy Scouts! And You Call This News?

It took ‘em long enough to make up their minds, but an appeals court across the river in New Jersey recently decided that a gay Scout is a good Scout. The case concerns an Eagle Scout named James Dale, who got tossed out of Troop 73 in Matawan eight years ago. Mr. Dale, who is now 27 years old, was both a Scout and an assistant scoutmaster when he got the heave-ho for being an “avowed homosexual.”

Whatever that expression means, the court let Mr. Dale resume wearing his short pants, brown shirt and red bandanna. It also praised him for going public about his preferences in bedmates and for having the moxie to get himself a lawyer to fight his way back into the Boy Scouts of America after they had given him the boot. Shortly after the New Jersey decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that Boy Scouts are well within their rights to expel gays, atheists and similar riffraff. The imbecilities of the legal reasoning lying behind these two diametrically opposite decisions need not detain us, although they should serve as a reminder to choose the right state before signing up unless, of course, you’re cookie-cutter normal, in which case the Boy Scouts may let you in, but I don’t want you in my club.

Not only are these legal decisions confusing to the layman, but the fuss leading up to them is no less bewildering. Why have the Boy Scouts taken to excommunicating homosexuals? Perhaps it’s different now, but when I was a tender lad, it went without saying that all scoutmasters were a little bit that way, if you catch my meaning. Now I don’t know what to think. What a shock! The import of both decisions leads one to believe that the organization may be crawling with heterosexual scoutmasters, which is a fine thing if you are one of these diversity buffs.

Why would straight men want to overnight under a mildewed tent in a rainstorm with four or five icky boys, while attempting to light a fire with a flint? In the relentlessly homophobic circumstances under which I was raised, it was presumed that only men with extraordinary motivations tramped through the woods leading a gaggle of callow boys whither knows where, when a man could be going through the very same woods by himself with a pack of well-reined dogs.

The New Jersey court in its decision rejects out of hand the suspicion that gay scoutmasters might have more in mind than teaching Indian lore, crafts and woodsmanship to adolescent suburban males. “There is absolutely no evidence before us, empirical or otherwise,” wrote the judges, who apparently had rather sheltered childhoods, “supporting a conclusion that a gay scoutmaster, solely because he is homosexual, does not possess the strength of character necessary to properly care for, or to impart B.S.A. humanitarian ideals to young boys in his charge. Nothing before us even suggests that a male, simply because he is gay, will somehow undermine B.S.A.’s fundamental beliefs and teachings. Plaintiff’s exemplary journey through the B.S.A. ranks is testament enough that these stereotypical notions about homosexuals must be rejected.”

Whether or not the Boy Scouts of America are swarming with gay scoutmasters is as unknowable as the suspicion that Smith College is the mother house for training lesbian missionaries is unprovable. There are rumors, gossip, stories and scandalized opinion, but short of conducting a disgraceful 16th-century inquisition into people’s private lives, we can’t know who’s who, who’s on top of who and who shouldn’t be.

Institutions like the Boy Scouts, which forbid homosexuals, merely drive them underground. No set of rules and procedures yet devised has succeeded in keeping any known institution purely heterosexual, not even whorehouses. The Roman Catholic Church and quite a few other religious organizations may have no choice but to persist in trying to stay exclusively straight, given that their reprobation of homosexual practice is a matter of unchangeable faith and morals. The price paid, however, for excluding homosexuals and thereby making them hide themselves in ye olde closet is a large one. There is no end of sneaking around and whispering about who is this and who is that and who isn’t.

It may also make cases of illicit sexual contact more likely and uglier than they need be. Only a few days ago, still one more Catholic priest, this one in Texas, was convicted of marauding the bodies of his altar boys and was sentenced to life in prison. (This seems to happen so often in the Roman Catholic Church that one is tempted to wonder if Martin Luther wasn’t factually correct in his slanders.) Something quite different might have transpired with this man if his church had changed the policy and allowed homosexual priests with the proviso that they made their sexual orientation, to use the illiterate term currently in fashion, known to the congregation.

Let the rules be changed so that a person who doesn’t announce his sexual orientation would be subject to expulsion. Some people may resist this line of thinking because they insist that men who have sex with underage boys aren’t homosexuals. If that’s the case, men who have sex with underage girls aren’t heterosexuals, but then what are they? Let’s not play epistemological hopscotch with this topic. The mistake is in assuming that all homosexual men will vamp on their young male charges. That is no more true than that straight men will do the same with schoolgirls. The available evidence suggests that most, in both categories, won’t, but some will.

It might also help if children and/or youths were given more explicit instructions in recognizing improper advances and told with specificity what to do about them. In the present climate of teaching tolerance of what is euphemistically called other life styles, this is not something easily done. Indeed, it can’t be done at all without tipping the hand and revealing that Mom and Dad believe that homosexual activity sucks, so to speak.

But frank discussion of homosexual issues is suppressed by the tyranny of the minority. Vide the reaction to recent remarks by the Rev. Reggie White, a star football player on the Green Bay Packers, when addressing the Wisconsin State Assembly. Mr. White, whose Knoxville, Tenn., church was burnt down by arsonists a few years ago, told the legislators that, according to his lights, homosexuality was a sin, and that, as an African-American, he is offended by equating the injustices meted out to blacks with those suffered by homosexuals. “Homosexuality is a decision. It’s not a race,” he declared, and then the roof fell in on him as he was scored off as an ignorant bigot.

Be that as it may, suppression of honest debate on this topic has envenomed feelings. Whether for secular or religious reasons, millions and millions of our fellow citizens more or less agree with Mr. White, yet the contrast between what is said in public by straight people and what they whisper in private to each other is astonishing.

Fear of speaking one’s mind makes a successful handling of something like the Boy Scout cases chancy at best. Leaving aside the question of the right of free association, ordering such organizations to officially tolerate homosexuals implies a degree of approbation and that scares the hell out of parents, too intimidated to object. So we are caught in a dilemma: Exclusion doesn’t work, and yet symbolic acceptance is repugnant to the conscience of millions.

The law courts have nothing to contribute here but mischief. Resolutions and workable solutions can only come out of open and honest debate, which is not permitted at the moment. The resentments will continue as also will the creeping suspicion that some of our best-known institutions for the care and instruction of the young have been turned into hunting grounds for invisible chicken hawks.