Monday February 4, 2013

RICHMOND

It would be fascinating to have been a ladybug on the wall while the Boy Scouts’ top brass discussed whether to lift its ban on gays or not.

But their sessions over the years have remained far more confidential than, say, Mitt Romney’s talks with his largest donors during the recent presidential campaign.

Besides, lady bugs have a life span of about a year, and the Boy Scouts’ discussion of the gay issue dates back to the previous century. But apparently the issue has become hotter in the past 12 months: The powers-that-be in Boy Scouting are expected to take a more tolerant stance this very week.

The proposal will hand off decision-making to individual scout groups, allowing troops to decide whether to admit gay scouts or select gay scout leaders. Or not. That will be enormous progress for the Boy Scouts of America, a distinguished organization that for too long has been wrapped in its narrow image of what an American boy must be.

The Boy Scout age range corresponds with the time when a boy may not even know whether he is gay or not or may be just confronting the issue - and in either case is not about to open the closet door. It is hard to imagine an adolescent male ‘fessing up to his scout leader when he has not yet come out to his parents or his best friend - and doesn’t even know if he needs to.

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The question of allowing gays as scout leaders went all the way to the Supreme Court back when the justices ruled that James Dale of New Jersey could be fired from his post as a troop leader because he was gay.

That was in 2000, and this column noted, "It seems quite impossible in this era of equal opportunity employment, anti-discrimination laws, anti-hate laws and affirmative action that a court could say someone can be fired for just being something, as opposed to doing something."

But someone could - and was. And at the very moment that the James Dale case was decided, American families were sending their children to gay dentists, gay teachers, gay coaches, gay priests, gay nurses, gay driving school teachers, gay guidance counselors - with no apparent worries.

The decision that may be made this week puts scouting at a baby-step phase in gay rights’ issues at a time when the rest of the nation is either jogging along or actively racing for the finish line.

Still, if they actually do decide to stop dictating a position on homosexuality to troops, members and parents, local troops would be free to make their own decision. Some, of course, including in the Berkshires, have already done so in practice, even if they have not documented their independent stance.

It is high time for this break with the past to take place, especially in an organization that requires kids to be loyal, helpful, trustworthy, friendly, courteous, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

It’ s amazing that any 13- or 14-year-old even wants to take on a burden like that. And that isn’t all. They are also supposed to do their best to understand others and respect those with ideas and customs unlike their own.

So the wherewithal has been part of scouting’s history all along. The hierarchy just hasn’t adhered to it.

We’re all used to that - in many places, bosses break the rules employees have to follow; and certainly parents do things they don’t want their kids to do.

Still, if the vote goes as predicted, it’s still a copout. It’s like telling the states to decide what they want to do about guns or gay marriage or other politically hot potatoes.

But it’s a decent beginning and, like Toyota, they’re moving forward.

Ruth Bass was a leader of the ever-inclusive Girl Scouts in Richmond for 19 years. Her web site is _www.ruthbass.com_ (http://www.ruthbass.com/)