The Washington Post published an excellent article about the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow gay scouts (but not scoutmasters – yet) to openly participate in the program, less than a year after declaring that its exclusionary policy would stay in place. What’s really fascinating, though, is the extensive report on changing public attitudes that the Scouts commissioned.
Based on the results of what amounts to market research on American boys and parents, the report analyzes the rapid change in public opinion on all things homosexual. What inspired the polling and the policy change were a drop in membership of almost 25% in the last 13 years (since 2000, when the Supreme Court upheld the gay exclusion in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale) and the realization that a growing gap existed between the image of scouting and the attitudes of both teenagers and parents of young children.
The new policy is designed to allow the Boy Scouts to reclaim the cultural center: an organization that is still traditional – whatever that means – but also contemporary and, most important, relevant. Alternative scout-like organizations have sprung up on both the right and left, nibbling away at what corporate speak would say had been the Boy Scouts’ market share.
From the Post:
Scout leaders, gay activists, religious conservatives and historians of Scouting point to five key factors to explain the shift: a dramatic turnabout in public opinion about the morality of gay relationships and same-sex marriage, a groundswell from corporate leaders insisting on equal access for gays, shifting attitudes inside the two largest religious denominations within Scouting [Mormons and Methodists], a steady decline in troop membership and a sense that Scouting’s image had morphed in the public mind from Mom and apple pie to an exclusionary group with a narrowing appeal.
In written answers to questions from The Washington Post, Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said the move to a new policy was prompted by “changes in society,” “calls for change” from Scouts, alumni and groups that sponsor troops, and “legal challenges and funding restrictions.”
As has happened in other American institutions, Scouting discovered that its members knew and loved gay people. Longtime Scouting officials described meetings at which fellow leaders shared stories of gay relatives or friends coming out, or spoke of gay teens and the strains they face. And Scouting’s internal polls showed huge increases in the number of teens and young parents who saw a contradiction between the membership policy and the Scouts’ stated values of honesty and fairness.
Perhaps above all, Scout leaders said, the vote was a reaction to a slow but steady erosion of Scouting’s reputation…
Scouting’s internal polling found that although six in 10 adult volunteers still supported the ban on gay Scouts, the opposite view now prevailed among Scouts and their non-Scout peers. Among parents in and out of Scouting, support for excluding gays dropped over the past three years from 58 percent to 42 percent…
The new policy continues to reiterate that boys’ sexual conduct of any sort is contrary to the principles of scouting, which was key to retaining the support of the religious groups that sponsor most troops. That is paired, however, with the principle that an openly gay scout “should not be afraid that he will be bullied or expelled by the Scouting community by disclosing his sexual orientation.” The chair of the National Committee on Catholic Scouting has endorsed the new policy, as have the Mormons.
So I guess there’s a new slogan – It’s Inappropriate to Ask, but Telling is OK. Just Don’t Do.