Christine M. Flowers: Sadly, Scouting seems poised to give up the fight

Posted: February 01, 2013

PERHAPS IT'S not a done deal. There's still a chance - a slim one - that the Boy Scouts will straighten their spines and stare the bullies down. They've done it before, when Philadelphia tried to evict them from their stone palace on the Parkway. I was so proud - yes, pride is the operative word - when the Scouts refused to let some prominent members of the LGBT community shame them into surrendering their constitutional rights to assembly and expression. For once, the tidal wave of manufactured tolerance had been held back by a principled few.

But now it seems that the fight may have gone out of them. Next week, the Scouts will vote on whether local chapters will be allowed to accept members who need to make their sexual orientation (even that of 7- and 8-year-olds) troop business. It's not enough to be happy in your own skin; now you need to force the rest of the world to accept you on your own uncompromising terms. You need to search the landscape for bigots, shame members into agreeing that homosexuality is as much a part of a person as race or religion. And God help those who don't agree.

Private clubs make their own rules in a democracy, and this is no exception. So some are saying that it's completely just that the Scouts make this decision "on their own." But let's be real: The club is on the verge of changing its rules not because it sees the error of its ways but because the LGBT community has done - through threats and boycotts - what it could not do in the courtroom. A community that has fought so long and so valiantly against the evils of bullying has found that arm-twisting is effective when all other avenues of relief are closed off by constitutional principle.

If the Scouts do vote to accept openly gay members and leaders, there will no doubt be rejoicing. Culture warriors who clamor for marriage "equality," who ridicule tradition and who have little use for orthodoxy and certain "intolerant" religions will declare victory, planting their flag on newly won terrain. This will be a significant triumph, the Gettysburg in the gay-rights battle, which moves them one step closer to where they need to be but leaves some bloodied bodies in its wake.

I suppose that you can't expect people to fight forever, particularly when each year brings new and louder reinforcements for the other side. The Boy Scouts have been struggling against a hostile media for more than 10 years, even before the Supreme Court handed down the Dale decision, which recognized their right to make their own rules. Some of them disagreed with a ban on homosexuals, others were glad to have it in place, but all of them thought that this battle was less important than serving the boys who flocked to them for guidance and fellowship. As a local scoutmaster told me, "I do not agree with everything that is done, but gays in Scouting should be allowed as long as they do not bring their sexuality into the program."

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was a perfect compromise between shouting your sexual orientation from the mountaintop and being shunned because of it. But silence came to be considered the enemy, and so the bullying campaign began. Now, it seems to be over.

When a group or person decides to make a change out of a sincere belief that change is necessary, you have to trust their judgment. If some feelings are hurt along the way, and some friendships lost, that's the price you end up paying. But you still have hope that the embrace of change is genuine and happens because, at their core, the group or person feels that this is the just thing to do. Many will try to convince the world that this new development from the Scouts springs from that sincere and honest place.

And yet, anyone who has been watching this tragicomedy from the 700 section in Philadelphia knows - whether he cares to admit it or not - that a vote to end the ban on gays is the last, sad gasp of an attempt to keep traditional values alive in an organization that never talked sex, never cared about it and never wanted it to be a line in the sand.

If the ban does fall, so too does any pretense that bullying was not at the heart of the crusade to make sexual orientation a badge of honor, one that now trumps all the other badges handed out by the Scouts.

Ultimately, I don't think it's going to make a difference whether a gay Eagle Scout comes running back to the group he left in protest. Ultimately, it won't matter if a scoutmaster decides to bring his "husband" to a Jamboree. What will matter is what will be lost: a sense that you can't be forced to disavow a core belief. That, ultimately, is the definition of intolerance.


Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com

Blog: philly.com/flowers

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