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Rick Hart: Scouting’s shameful silence

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) statement says, “we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.” Their mission is to instill the values of the Scout Law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

The message is clear that somehow our LGBT citizens are a threat to these values and not worthy to be scouts or scout leaders.

This BSA policy discriminates against millions of American children and adults, and affects thousands of our neighbors locally. The Northampton Human Rights Commission has invited the scoutmasters of the two city Boy Scout troops to meet with us to discuss the BSA policy and local troops. One has not responded at all. The other told me by telephone that he wouldn’t meet with us, and that we should approach the regional council.

Our invitation still stands.

Exclusion like this is one more assault on the self-esteem of gay youths who already are struggling with social oppression ranging from bullying to ostracism, both overt and subtle. This policy is contrary to the promises of our national documents, which assert that all men are created equal and guarantee freedom and equitable treatment to all.

It violates the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which say that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.”

It also goes against the ordinance that created the Northampton Human Rights Commission, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach only adds to the original discrimination a promise that “if you’re dishonest, we won’t take action against you” — which is not healthy, not in line with scouting’s official values, and just plain not workable.

The Boy Scouts of America might claim the policy is aimed partly at avoiding sexual abuse. If so, it’s a dismal failure, as evidenced by recent revelations about abuse in some Scouting groups.

Instead it is blocking many people who would like to join the scouts for good reasons, while perpetuating a false, harmful stereotype of homosexuals.

Many individuals and groups, in and outside of the Scouting movement, some in the Pioneer Valley, have spoken or acted in protest against this policy. Hundreds of Eagle Scouts have returned their badges with letters explaining why. Troops have written to the national organization expressing opposition to the policy; troops also have issued public statements that they do not discriminate.

A national group, Scouts for Equality, is advocating for change within the organization (see www.scoutsforequality.com). Other individuals and organizations have withheld funding from BSA to underscore their rejection of the policy.

It’s sad that this still needs to be asserted: With LGTB issues we are not talking about a handful of oddballs lurking somewhere; we are talking about a wide and diverse mix of people among our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family. All these individuals are denied membership in the Boy Scouts, a widely respected and popular organization.

Scouting offers a range of activities aimed at personal growth, enriching experiences and education; but not unless one has the “right” sexual orientation.

It is shameful that in our city, which prides itself on respect and diversity, Scout troops and leaders have remained silent, while others in nearby communities and nationally have stood firm against discrimination.

The Northampton Human Rights Commission calls on local Scouts and troops to make a clear statement of nondiscrimination, at least locally but also to the national organization. We urge other residents to engage in dialogue with Scouts and Scout leaders, to help them understand the harmful, misguided nature of the current policy and to move toward change.

Any groups or individuals concerned about basic human rights should consider actions in protest: speaking out, withholding support while stating why and in some cases finally severing membership.

The promise of our country’s ideals, and of the Scouts’ own mission, will only be fulfilled in an inclusive, tolerant community.

Rick Hart wrote this guest column on behalf of the Northampton Human Rights Commission, of which he is a member.

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