Recently, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it was considering changing its longstanding policy of discrimination against gays. A news report on the radio covered the protests outside the BSA’s headquarters in Irving, Texas. Asked for his opinion, one protestor commented:
“Allowing homosexuals in scouting would send the wrong message. The Boy Scouts is not a place for any kind of sexuality.”This remark reveals an important truth about the Boy Scouts of America, and about the conservative undercurrent in American culture in general:
The BSA’s fear of gays is grounded in its general discomfort with sex.
The conceit that boy scouts are asexual provides comfort to those who would prefer not to tackle the complicated issues around teenage sexuality. By excluding girls and gays, the BSA has heretofore been able to pretend that sex wasn’t an issue that needed to be dealt with. Parents and scout leaders convinced themselves that scouting was a place completely safe from the influence of sexuality. As one of the few remaining bastions of conservative religious Puritanism in American life, the BSA has attracted many who seek refuge from the complexity and diversity of the broader culture. These conservatives would prefer to be able to continue pretending that they live in a world where scouts are entirely asexual. Allowing gays — or girls — into the group would make it more difficult to keep up the pretense.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking actually stands in the way of progress, because it is not based in reality.
It is precisely during those scouting years that a man truly awakens as a sexual creature. To deny the physical and psychological aspects of a boy’s growth into manhood is to turn a blind eye to the foundation of one of the most important parts of life: building fulfilling, meaningful, and effective relationships. How many scout leaders out there would be comfortable talking with a 15-year-old scout about how to handle feelings he has for a girl in his neighborhood, how to be safe if he begins having sex, or how to be respectful toward girls in general? I’m afraid the answer is very few.
In Sweden, there are no boy scouts and girl scouts; there are only scouts, with boys and girls in the same organization. Because scout leaders in Sweden lead desegregated troops with both boys and girls, they are certainly more experienced dealing with issues related to sexuality. This goes a long way toward explaining why homosexuality is simply not a big deal for scouts in Sweden.
If more scout leaders in America were comfortable talking about sex, they could help the boys and girls in their organizations to develop into mature, responsible, emotionally healthy adults. As a bonus, they could then probably relax a bit about homosexuality too.