Queer Mormons, Allies Respond to BSA’s Acceptance of Gay Scouts

Mormons serve in the Boy Scouts of America program as shown here with this den leader and her Cub Scouts © 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved; accessed via http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/
Mormons serve in the Boy Scouts of America program as shown here with this den leader and her Cub Scouts © 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved; accessed via http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, along with gay and allied Church members, have responded positively to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow gay scouts amongst their ranks.

While maintaining that homosexual activity is sinful, the LDS Church has recently made significant overtures to heal the rift between Mormon communities and LGBTQ individuals, launching initiatives encouraging both groups to “love one another” and quietly abandoning what some called a “crusade” against marriage equality. Mormon groups will even be marching in solidarity with the queer community at many Pride celebrations nationwide, including the Portland Pride Parade on June 16.

As a result, the Church was primed to respond positively when the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow gay scouts in their programs. The Church has long been deeply allied with the Boy Scouts of America; currently, with over 420,000 Scouts and nearly 38,000 troops, the Church is the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States. In keeping with their recent motion towards tolerance and acceptance, the Church responded to the vote with the following statement:

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 [2010], 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.

Queer Mormons and their allies have been even more thrilled than Church officials about the decision — but many feel that it’s only one step in the right direction. Openly gay Mormon church leader Mitch Mayne (who was profiled by PQ Monthly in our October 2012 issue) responded to the BSA’s vote on his blog:

I’m pleased that the BSA decided to approve the measure to lift the ban on gay scouts. Like the steps the Mormon Church has taken in recent months, it is encouraging to see movement in the right direction.

One of my favorite life lessons I learned from a fictional character, Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Atticus, you’ll recall, was the white attorney who represented black defendants in an Alabama murder trial. The lesson I learned from Atticus Finch was that change happens incrementally. As much as we’d like to believe humanity is wise and kind enough to right decades (and sometimes centuries) of wrongdoing with a single grand event, it just doesn’t happen that way. While I believe humanity will always make progress, it will be progress in spirals. Progress and change are a process–and with this victory we can clearly see that the process has begun.

Yet, still embedded into Scouting policy and culture is the message that as a gay youth, you might be okay when you’re young, but rejection is imminent. And as we now know, profound evidence-based research done by The Family Acceptance Project tells us rejection is the leading risk factor for LGBT youth when it comes to health issues, including depression and suicide.
Moreover, because gay leaders would be banned from working with youth, there is a message here confusing being gay with pedophilia, and once again, science has borne out that those are two very different things. It’s as if Boy Scouts of America believes that while we might be marginally acceptable as youth, upon our 18th birthday a magical switch is flipped transforming us from being part of the family of humanity and into sexual predators.

So like Atticus Finch, let’s recognize the goodness here — that we are indeed moving in the right direction. But let’s not confuse taking a step in the right direction with completing the journey.

Other Mormon allies voiced similarly strong opposition to the BSA’s lack of acceptance of openly gay scout leaders. Kevin Kloosterman, a former Mormon bishop and current active member of the Church, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post celebrating victory but decrying how far scouting still has to go:

For Mormon boys, Boy Scouts is the activity arm of the church. Since I became an LGBT ally, I had become concerned as my own children began and continued in scouting if one day they would face discrimination if they were gay.
The messages of exclusion and discrimination from an organization that is supposed to build character and inculcate principle-centered values seemed completely at odds with one another.

The ban of gay boy scouts and leaders also seemed incongruent with current church policy that allows openly gay young men to bless and pass the Sacrament (communion), receive ordination, and perform the ordinance of baptism. And 18 year old young men are allowed to serve as missionaries and be ordained to the high priesthood if they are openly gay. Yet, if my son or any other Mormon parents’ son is gay they could be excluded from Boy Scouts under the current ban. Gay adults and parents would also be ineligible to become Boy Scout leaders under the ban. This gap in Mormon culture between church and activities is not sustainable and does not make sense.

I was excited and enthused when I heard the church recently came out in support of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) moving towards ending the ban against gay scouts. This was a huge step for our faith tradition that has such strong ties to scouting. In fact, our church sponsors 25% of all local Cub and Boy Scout groups. Many in our faith community previously believed that if the scouts took the step towards inclusion, the church would abandon scouting and start their own activity program. It appears this won’t be the case and I could not be more pleased. This important inclusionary step will harmonize with current church policy.

While I am excited and energized about this progress, there will continue to be a ban on gay leaders. This is extremely unfortunate because it continues to promote the atrocious myths and stereotypes that have long been assigned to our gay friends, family, and neighbors. These myths promote fear, misunderstanding, discrimination, hate and even lead to violence against our sisters and brothers. They also send the wrong message to our youth.

I look forward to a day when our LGBT sisters and brothers will be judged not by orientation or gender identity but on the content of their character. We still have not come to that day yet, but I do see progress. I hope my faith community and the BSA will continue to make progress towards inclusion and acceptance of our gay neighbors and loved ones, and that scouting will return to its honored tradition of developing leadership and values in all of our youth and the ban against gay leaders will be lifted.

What are your thoughts on the LDS Church’s response to the Boy Scouts vote? Tell us in the comments!