(This was also published today at GLAAD http://www.glaad.org/blog/guest-post-gay-mormon-pleads-inclusive-scouting)
The results of the vote from the Boy Scouts of America is expected to be announced at 5pm CDT about whether the ban on gay youth will be dropped. The Mormon Church is the largest sponsor of Boy Scouts Troops, and the hierarchy of the church has endorsed dropping the ban on gay youth.
Some of us don’t have to imagine how painful it is to be a gay Scout. We were one. Growing up as a Mormon boy in Idaho, scouting was pretty much built into my pathway to becoming an adult. It was as much a part of the plan for my youth as many Mormon rights of passage: baptism, being ordained to the priesthood, and passing the sacrament on Sundays.
But knowing from an early age that I was gay (even though I lacked the vocabulary to explain how I was different from my fellow Scouts), made Scouting a difficult road for me—and for many other gay youth like me. Instead of learning honesty, we are taught to lie about who we are to protect our safety. Instead of ethics and morality, we learn to deceive others in order to be included and accepted. Instead of feeling healthy and strong, we feel like a fraud and an imposter.
Boy Scouts of America has an opportunity to change that today. The policy—if approved—would lift the ban on gay Scouts and help create a safer, more harassment-free environment for our LGBT youth. It would help send a message that they, too, have value just as they are, and that they deserve to be included and recognized for dedicating their lives to the service embedded into the Scouting creed, and that their honesty and integrity is just as worthy as that of their straight counterparts.
This proposed change mirrors very closely the steps taken by the Mormon Church in recent months on the LGBT issue. The Church recently released www.mormonsandgays.org, in which it acknowledged for the first time that our orientation is not a choice, and counseled parents never to shun or exclude their gay youth, independent of the life path their child chooses. The Mormon Church also recently released a press statement in which they applaud the Boy Scouts of America for considering a similar supportive move for our LGBT youth.
As an openly gay, active Mormon—and a former Scout—I encourage Boy Scouts of America to approve this new policy, and am optimistic about the future of gay Scouting youth.
At the same time, my optimism is guarded. Embedded into the new policy is the message that as a gay youth, you might be okay when you’re young, but rejection is imminent once you turn 18. And as we well know, powerful evidence-based research done by The Family Acceptance Project tells us that rejection is the leading risk factor for LGBT youth when it comes to depression, health issues, and even 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, yes—I support Boy Scouts of America and would very much like to see this new policy enacted. Like the steps taken by the Mormon Church, this is indeed heading in the right direction.
But let’s not confuse taking a step in the right direction with completing the journey.