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One thing we can count on is “what goes around comes around.” And that is exactly what is happening with the Boy Scouts of America.
Soon after my election to Congress in 1992 a young scout came up to me at our hometown Butter and Eggs Parade and started a conversation about scouting and how unfairly gay leaders and gay scouts were treated.
This young boy, Steven Cozza, was defending the rights of his troop leader who had been kicked out for being gay. Cozza, who should run for president someday, was and remains a very impressive person. He not only knew why the situation was wrong, he had well thought out and researched solutions and had formed a support group. It was an easy call for me to join the effort and provide help at the federal level.
Believing scouting to be a good experience that all boys should have the opportunity to participate in, I found the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of discrimination just plain wrong.
But knowing that the president of the United States was the honorary head of the Boy Scouts of America and that the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the Scouts ban on homosexuals, it was an easy decision to become involved.
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Working with “Scouting for All,” I authored a letter to President Bill Clinton with 10 other members calling for him to resign as honorary head of the Boy Scouts.
Then I introduced legislation revoking Boy Scouts of America’s federal charter. We weren’t saying Boy Scouts are bad; we were saying intolerance is. And, their intolerant policies should not receive the support of the federal government.
Our letter and the legislation received mostly negative attention and few votes, with comments about “voting against Santa Claus” and the like. Those who voted for tolerance were editorialized against, made fun of and pummeled by their constituents. You would consider it a loss for our side except we started the conversation. When you know you are on the right and fair side of an argument, you take pride in bringing your views forward. And, as I said, “what goes around comes around.”
Today with bad publicity about Boy Scout leadership sexual abuse and their obvious tolerance for and cover-ups of these incidents, plus many parents questioning involving their child in an organization that discriminates when other youth groups don’t, the Boy Scouts of America is finally moving toward revoking its ban on gays in scouting.
The Boys Scouts of America has not made its final decision but will soon. If you agree that the Boys Scouts’ core mission — to foster an understanding and dedication to service — is good but that it is time to end discrimination and make this a truly All-American program, then we need to speak up now.
We must let local scouts, scouting leaders, and parents of scouts know that we support them.
Community support is essential to making positive changes of all kinds and this is no different and the Boys Scouts of America needs that support to do the right thing. But if they can’t or won’t, we must acknowledge them as a private organization and excise any federal support, because this is the 21st century and our government should stand up for acceptance and diversity.
Lynn Woolsey is the president of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington, D.C.