In the past two weeks the LGBT community responded to two different situations; one in the public arena and the other in a private organization.
The Boy Scouts voted to admit gay scouts. Though some think scouting is quasi-public, the organization’s right to set its own membership standards was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Still, localities such as New York City have prohibited the Scouts from using public buildings for their meetings as long as they continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
The debate on this vote in the LGBT community has been vociferous. Some applauded the scouts and others only bashed them. Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, said, “What I do know is that, in this day and age, it is neither acceptable nor progress to allow gay boys to participate as scouts for a few years, only to harshly expel them from any involvement the moment they turn 18.” She went on to say, “This is a calculated and craven strategy to win back the support of the many corporate sponsors that have stopped funding the BSA, costing the organization millions of dollars in lost revenue, because of its discriminatory policies.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Today is a historic day for Boy Scouts across the country who want to be a part of this great American institution but the new policy doesn’t go far enough. Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans.”
And Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, said, “The Boy Scouts of America can do better. We welcome the news that the ban on gay Scouts is history, but our work isn’t over until we honor the Scout Law by making this American institution open and affirming to all.”
As a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Explorer, Explorer Advisor and former member of the National Committee, Scouting for the Handicapped, scouting was good to me. I was inducted into the Order of the Arrow and received my Ner Tamid (Scouting’s Jewish Medal). Growing up a city kid, scouting gave me experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had — camping, Ten Mile River Summer Camp, Philmont Ranch and going to the 25th National Jamboree in Colorado Springs. To me this vote is a first step that should be positively viewed. We must keep the pressure on to remove the ban on gay leaders and continue the ban on using public buildings. Corporate boycotts of scouting should continue until they end all discrimination.
This will happen with both outside pressure and openly gay scouts moving up the ladder and becoming ready for leadership. It will happen because of young Eagle Scouts like Zach Wahls who will keep the pressure on with the support of the entire LGBT community and our allies.
The other issue faced by the LGBT community last week was that some of our strongest allies in Congress backed off their demand that the Uniting American Families Act be included as an amendment in the immigration reform bill. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withdrew the amendment when Republicans threatened to abandon the entire bill and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they wouldn’t vote for the amendment in committee. It seems the president also backed off his demand that it be included. This created a firestorm in the LGBT community.
Former Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was pilloried for being reasonable when he said this bill is too important to 12 million members of the Hispanic community to chance it being scuttled because we aren’t in it. I support Barney. This issue may be settled for those in states where gay marriage is legal if, as assumed, Section 3 of DOMA is ruled unconstitutional. The LGBT community cannot be the ones to stop a bill that if it doesn’t pass now may not see the light of day again for a decade. The amendment should be brought up on the Senate floor to get senators on the record even if it doesn’t pass.
We must never be satisfied with less than full equality but we can’t stop progress for others as we fight for our own. Even when we win there will always be someone trying to turn back the tide. Only by building strong coalitions can we preserve the rights we have won and fight successfully for those that still elude us.