The Philadelphia-area Boy Scout council occupies, rent-free, a nice piece of real estate in Center City that is owned by the City of Philadelphia. This arrangement has continued since the late 1920s. In recent years, however, the national Boy Scout organization has reaffirmed its discriminatory policy toward gays. The national Boy Scout organization forbids homosexuals from serving as troop leaders and scouts -- and even litigated the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. The Philadelphia council purported to adopt a nondisciminatory policy toward gays but then shortly thereafter, booted a Boy Scout who was openly gay. Last week, the city of Philadelphia put the Scouts on notice that they would have to either leave the premises or begin paying fair market rent in light of their discriminatory practices:
For several years, we have attempted to convince the Cradle of Liberty Council that its discriminatory policies are untenable and violate express City policy and law. Regrettably, we have been unable to obtain adequate assurances that the Boy Scouts will not, while headquartered on City property, discriminate.
It's hard to pin the Boy Scouts down on exactly why openly gay scouts or scout leaders bother them so much. They talk about gay scouts not making "good role models" for their "traditional values." They talk about a boy scout's pledge to keep himself "clean" -- and if you've ever been on a camping trip where it rains, you can imagine how silly this is. They mention not wanting men with DUI convictions or who are "promiscuous" as role models either. I suppose there are several factors at work here: part of it is the fundamentalist "Christian" (I purposely put the word in quotes) agenda that views homosexuality as a choice, a sinful "lifestyle," rather than a biological fact. I happen to think that sexual preference is something a person is born with, and can't change. Disciminating on the basis of a genetic roll of the dice, a biological imperative, is to me clearly wrong.
I also find the stereotypes and generalizations about gays that the Boy Scouts espouse to be troubling. The Boy Scouts apparently assume that gays don't have "family values"; but the gay parents I know put the lie to this stereotype every day with loving and conscientious care of their children. The Boy Scouts apparently assume that all gays are decadent, sin-loving libertines who want to teach impressionable scouts all kinds of naughty things; my friends who happen to be gay are kind, honest, caring and certainly no more decadent than any heteros I know (many a good deal less). And let's not kid ourselves: isn't underlying all this homophobia an element of "but we can't endanger our kids by leaving them with gay men," an assumption that being gay means you are a pedophile and could only be motivated by a desire to cop a quick feel in between S'Mores on the annual Jamboree? I hope I don't have to point out how utterly offensive that is. (By the way, I hope the Boy Scouts have also established a policy banning tarty, bleached-blond teachers from being scout leaders in light of the Mary Kay LeTourneau affair.)
If you think the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, should have the right to exclude anyone it wants from belonging, then ask yourself this: Would you feel the same way if the Boy Scouts excluded blacks? What if they excluded Roman Catholics? Would you want your tax dollars -- even if the form of foregone rent -- going to an organization that did so?
Discrimination -- whether against blacks, Catholics or homosexuals -- is wrong. No decent religion requires it. And I believe our Constitution, frail and under attack as it is, forbids it. Well done, Mayor Street.