On Monday, The Boy Scouts of America officially ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders. “But,” The New York Times writes (July 27), “the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.”
“ ‘There are differences of opinion, and we need to be respectful of them,’ said Michael Harrison, a businessman who led the Boy Scouts in Orange County, Calif., and lobbied internally for change. ‘It doesn’t mean the Mormons have to pick a gay scoutmaster, but please don’t tell the Unitarians they can’t.’
“Already struggling to reverse a long-term decline in membership,” The Times continues, “the Boy Scouts have been increasingly consumed over the last two decades by battles over the exclusion of gay people that threatened to fracture the organization. Conservative partners saw the policy as a bulwark against unwanted social change, but the anti-gay stance was costing the Boy Scouts public support and cachet as well as corporate funders, and lately had brought the threat of costly lawsuits.
“In a contentious meeting in 2013, the Scouts decided to permit participation by gay youths but not adults. On Monday, bowing to shifts in opinion and law, the Scouts will relax their policy barring openly gay adults from serving as den leaders, scoutmasters and camp counselors.
“The Scouts will also on Monday bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in all official facilities and paying jobs across the country, heading off potential suits.
But to keep some of the larger church sponsors in the fold, Scout executives concluded that they must allow for diverse policies for local volunteers. Church-based units may ‘continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own,’ according to a statement that the Scouts’ top executives sent this month to regional board members.
“ ‘It’s a great day for America and for scouting,’ David Boies, a prominent lawyer, said of Monday’s expected decision. His firm helped create pressure for change, threatening to sue the Boy Scouts if the organization tried to bar a gay Eagle Scout from a camp job this summer in New York.
“But Mr. Boies added: ‘I think this will be a way station on the road to full equality,’ and he questioned whether the exemption for religious sponsors could endure.
“Mr. Gates — an Eagle Scout who directed the C.I.A., served as defense secretary, and oversaw the end of the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gay service in the military — has won praise for acting decisively to resolve a conflict that threatened to fracture the Scouts.”
This latest chapter, in the long chronicle for fairness and respect, reminds me of a story from my book, What Do You Stand For? in which local Scout Executive Len Lanzi was fired due to his sexual orientation. His statement, on October 17, 2000 made in defense of the Scouts standards, not only demonstrates one individual’s moment of principle, but is a lesson in tolerance for all of us.
“I am an Eagle Scout. I’ve been in Scouting for 30 years, since I was eight years old. I have been working for the Boy Scouts for fourteen years, most recently in the capacity of Executive Director here for the past three-and-a-half years. I’m in a very unique position today to speak as the official spokesperson of the Boy Scouts of America; also to speak as a County resident and a person who feels very deeply about the issue at hand.
“I want to remind the Supervisors of one thing – this really isn’t about the Boy Scouts. It’s about a bunch of kids. It’s about the values that parents choose for their children to learn and to articulate and to grow up in. When I joined 30 years ago, my parents wanted me… to learn how to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. They wanted me to learn how to help other people at all times, to be a good citizen, to be morally straight, physically fit.
“We are a private organization. We do have membership standards for some of our programs. There are people both inside and outside the Boy Scouts who disagree with our membership standards. But they are our standards… We welcome all people to be in our organization as long as they have our beliefs. If they don’t have our beliefs, they don’t have to join. That’s the simple message that we’re giving to people.
“We don’t hate gay people. We teach our boys to be courteous, to be friendly, and to be kind. We teach them to help other people at all times. We don’t say that homosexuals are child abusers, because they’re not. They’re not pedophiles. And [homophobic people] put those arguments …in the Boys Scouts’ mouths. But I’m here to tell you officially that that is not true. They [Boy Scouts of America] say that an avowed homosexual is someone that we don’t want in our organization. I’m not quite sure what that means.
“…I’m here to urge the Board not to support either one of the resolutions that have been put forward by the Human Relations Commission. I think they’re mean-spirited. I think they’re made to make a statement about the Boy Scouts that is detrimental to kids. And that’s what we’re here about. We’re here about kids.
“In recent weeks, the Boy Scouts has been in the spotlight due to the United States Supreme Court ruling…People in the community have tried to make it a point to turn this into a very personal vendetta against the Boy Scouts and against me, in particular.
“I know there are many people in this room that understand that I am a private person who keeps my personal relationships private. But I am gay. And I uphold the Boy Scouts policies because I believe in them. …I would not have worked for the Boy Scouts if I didn’t agree that we save kid’s lives, that we do not hurt people, that my job is to make sure every boy in this county has the opportunity to join because the value that we give kids is incredible.
“…I also feel very strongly about what Pacific Pride and the gay advocacy groups here in town do because I think people are discriminated against, and we have to eradicate that from the public part of our world. But we have to agree that there are private organizations that serve different constituencies and we can’t serve everybody together…
“I’ve made my statement today because I feel very strongly that, as a Scout, I have to have integrity. I have to be credible. And I know that there are people in this room that have information about me personally, and I couldn’t not speak up without feeling hypocritical. I’m trustworthy. I’m loyal. I’m helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
After watching Lanzi’s statement on the local news that night, I was struck by two things. Here was a man who sincerely believed in the principles of scouting, had achieved the level of Eagle Scout, reached the office of Scout Executive and was well on his way to a career and example of the highest qualities that we think of, when we think of a Boy Scout. At the same time, he felt the need to stand up and be accountable to those very qualities even at the risk of great personal loss.
On page fifty of the 11th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook in defining “kindness,” it reads, We live in a world that has more than its share of anger, fear, and war. Extending kindness to those around you and having compassion for all people is a powerful antidote to the poisons of hatred and violence.
While it has been a long fifteen year struggle, the Boy Scouts of America are finally embracing the principles they teach.