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Fearful scouts send a message

Saturday, July 21, 2012 - Updated: 9:29 PM

Here's how the irreverent Internet site summed up Tuesday's decision by the Boy Scouts to continue to treat gay kids and adults like second-class citizens:

"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and totally not gay."

It's a joke. But the policy isn't.

The Boy Scouts, admirable in many ways, is led by people who don't always make admirable decisions. They went to court in Oregon in 2010 to try to keep secret so-called perversion files -- thousands of pages of documents it compiled that detail accusations and investigations of sexual abuse or other improprieties by Boy Scout leaders from the mid-1960s into the 1980s. In June, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the files to be opened with the names of victims and accusers redacted.

So here's an organization that wants to keep kids away from gay people -- supposedly to protect them from dangerous messages emitted by people who have same-sex orientation -- that fought to conceal 20 years worth of documents that would reveal the names and identities of potential sexual predators.

The Penn State case, to say nothing of clerical abuse cases, demonstrated what can happen when adult authorities keep secrets about sexual predators. This doesn't mean that every person named in the documents the Boy Scouts sought to keep secret is a predator or that every tale told in those documents is true.

But it is incumbent upon an organization that has as one of its founding principles the idea of protecting children to keep those children safe from real predators, not boogeymen.

Gay people are not sexual predators. They are not pederasts, the real beasts who prey on young people. Confusing the two does nothing to help kids and does a lot to hurt an entire category of human beings whose sexual orientation is nobody's business but their own.

The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 and racially integrated in 1916. Nearly 100 years later it's time for the organization to have a second awakening and integrate gay kids and leaders into its troops.

The Boy Scouts is a private organization and, as such, has the right to exclude whomever it wants. But the organization would be better served by inclusion than exclusion, by teaching kids that the differences among them are not threatening and that tolerance is a virtue.

The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. doesn't seem as confused about the issue. In a 1991 letter, the organization said it "respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference."

The Girl Scouts' letter went on to say that the organization "does not condone or permit sexual displays of any sort by its members during Girl Scout activities.... These are private matters for girls and their families to address."

The letter would have been better with the word "preference" changed to "orientation." Being gay is not a choice. Still, the Girl Scouts have the more enlightened policy.

The Boy Scouts needs to catch up.

This appeared as an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


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