The Boy Scouts and Their Policy Against Gay Leaders
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BOY SCOUTS ( In unison ): “Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind.”
RAY SUAREZ: For almost a century, a boy scout has been the epitome of the ideal American boy. But since last June, the Boy Scouts of America have been at ground zero in the culture wars. That’s when the Supreme Court ruled the group– a private organization of over three million scouts and 1.2 million adult volunteers– has the right to exclude homosexuals.
BOY SCOUTS (In unison): To help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
RAY SUAREZ: “Morally straight.” Throughout the nation, families, schools, government offices, religious congregations, charities and corporations have been struggling with the Boy Scouts interpretation of those two words. To many, the Boy Scouts’ position amounts to discrimination. Others applaud what they call a moral stand. Bob Cadwallader is scoutmaster of Troop 822 in suburban Maryland.
BOB CADWALLADER, Troop 822 Scoutmaster: To me, personally, homosexuality is not natural, and I do not want it taught or presented to my children as natural.
RAY SUAREZ: Henry Bernheimer serves as the assistant scoutmaster.
HENRY BERNHEIMER: The scouts have determined that to be incompatible with what they consider moral. We will follow the rules that are set down by the Boy Scouts of America, and that’s what we do.
BOY SCOUT: You’ll be assigned a check next to it.
RAY SUAREZ: For New York City’s Troop 729, the Boy Scouts’ position on homosexuality has created an agonizing conflict between their values and their loyalty to the scouts.
CHRIS HANSEN NELSON, Troop 729, Assistant Scoutmaster: Initially, I wanted out; I wanted to resign in protest, you know. It just offended me.
SCOTT SIMPSON, Scoutmaster: At this point, I’m wearing, you know, the uniform of institutionalized bigotry, and I am uncomfortable.
RAY SUAREZ: Scoutmaster Scott Simpson and Chris Hansen-Nelson lead an ethnically and economically diverse troop in Washington Heights, on Manhattan’s upper West side. Troop 729 has been meeting on and off in this church since scouting was founded. Then the troop was made up of Irish and Italian immigrant families.
BOY SCOUT: Try to see if they’re conscious. It they’re not conscious, it’s up to you do everything, okay?
RAY SUAREZ: The troop is still a guide to American immigration in 2001. Today the families are Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Jamaican, Egyptian, Honduran, Sudanese.
BOY SCOUT: So you have to tilt his head back, open his mouth. Open it.
RAY SUAREZ: Troop 729 needs outside contributions just to make ends meet. Now it’s found that the national organization’s stand on homosexuals has made it tougher to raise money.
SCOTT SIMPSON: A lot of corporations, public organizations, have a stated policy that they do not support organizations that discriminate, and therefore, they cannot give us money; it is just in direct violation of their code.
RAY SUAREZ: The troop uses the money it raises for equipment, uniforms and outdoor expeditions. Last summer, they went on a 50-mile hiking and canoeing trip in Maine. This summer, their trip could bust the troop’s budget because of the difficulty they have had finding funders.
SCOTT SIMPSON: The only people that I can see that it affects are the poorer kids in inner cities, because it is specifically where we are denied money. This is a really poor troop.
RAY SUAREZ: In the past, one of the largest donors was the neighborhood fund sponsored by New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical School and the New York Psychiatric Institute. The director of the institute and a member of the neighborhood fund’s steering committee, Dr John Oldham, told producer Carol Blakeslee the committee agonized and ultimately split 2-1 against giving Troop 729 an annual contribution of $1,000.
DR. JOHN OLDHAM, Director, Psychiatric Institute: We felt that they were really deserving and doing things that were terrific and benefited a lot from the small amount of help we could provide. But at the same time, feeling reluctant to do that because it would seem to continue to endorse the entire national organization oblivious of this position that they’ve taken.
RAY SUAREZ: Officials at the national headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America declined to comment about fundraising or their position on homosexuals, but they have posted their rationale for the policy on their Web site: “An avowed homosexual is not a role model for the traditional moral values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law and homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values we wish to instill.” John Eastman is a constitutional scholar and the author of an amicus brief for the Boy Scouts’ Supreme Court case. In a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles, he said parents want their sons to be scouts because the organization teaches traditional moral values.
JOHN EASTMAN: The Boy Scouts are really almost synonymous with moral virtue. Look, parents don’t join the Boy Scouts organization because they want afternoon daycare. There are a lot of other and cheaper and less time-intensive ways to foster that function. They join the Boy Scouts because of a particular set of views that the Boy Scouts are trying to teach.
BOB CADAWALLADER: My 15-year-old has some friends outside of church and scouting who I don’t want him hanging around with.
BOY SCOUT: You guys want to be doing a scavenger hunt.
RAY SUAREZ: Troop 822′s scoutmaster Bob Cadwallader volunteers hours each week to give his sons an alternative to hanging out in suburban Maryland shopping malls.
BOB CADAWALLADER: We were out here in December, ten degrees. How many boys do you know that could chunk out here in the woods and they’d be comfortable, happy and have a great time? Those kinds of lessons last through their lives.
RAY SUAREZ: For the most part, troop 729′s leaders agree with both Eastman and Cadwallader about Scouting’s essential values. Where they disagree is in the interpretation and application of those values.
BOY SCOUT: Say the oath.
BOY SCOUT: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…”
SCOTT SIMPSON: They come in and the language is just appalling. And within a month, they stop. Kids at 14, 15, they are now the leaders, they’re the role models for the troop.
BOY SCOUT: Remember not to tighten it too much.
RAY SUAREZ: For 17-year-old senior scouts Abner Lopez and Eddie Hansen Nelson, the national policy just doesn’t make sense. Eddie supports the gay-straight alliance at his high school.
EDDIE HANSEN-NELSON: They were very frustrated with the fact that so much of what Boy Scouts stands for was kind of pushed out of the way because of, you know, a couple of people think that homosexuality is a sin.
ABNER LOPEZ: It shouldn’t even say “we don’t allow gay scouts.” It shouldn’t say that at all in the national rules. It shouldn’t even come up.
RAY SUAREZ: For the suburban Maryland troop leader, there are different worries.
BOB CADWALLADER : Two of my sons and one of the other boys in the troop have had homosexual men make passes, if you will. It scared the hell out of my son. I happened to be nearby and solved the problem. Richard doesn’t ever want to be in that position again, and I don’t blame him. Maybe that was something totally out of the norm. Maybe that wouldn’t happen in a troop.
RAY SUAREZ: Chris Hansen Nelson says such fears are wrong. He cites numerous studies which have concluded that gay men are not more likely than straight men to sexually abuse young boys. Hansen Nelson says such beliefs end up isolating gay men and boys.
CHRIS HANSEN-NELSON: It hurts kids, it hurts gay kids, who, like, they don’t have a tough enough time already in this country growing up? I mean, anybody knows that. It hurts them because you have an organization that is a time- honored organization like scouting that says, “sorry, there’s something wrong with you. You can’t be a scout.” Or a kid who was a scout, now he’s an adult, maybe an Eagle Scout, and he wants to give back to scouting, which is exactly what scouting is about. And scouting says to this adult, “hey, I’m sorry but there is something wrong with you. You can’t be a scout leader.” It also hurts straight kids. It teaches straight kids that it’s okay to be afraid of somebody if they’re different. It’s okay to judge them if they’re different or ostracize them or discriminate against them. Well, that’s not what scouting is about, you know. That’s wrong.
RAY SUAREZ: But to the national organization and the troop leaders in Maryland, what is wrong is homosexuality itself.
BOB CADWALLADER: You then swear to be morally straight by the standards of the Boy Scouts of America. I do not want my boys to be in a position where they are presented with a lifestyle abhorrent to me or different than mine, significantly that it would conflict with my religious and moral beliefs.
BOB CADWALLADER: Let me tell you the boundaries so that you will not go too far.
RAY SUAREZ: Bob Cadwallader serves as an advisor and trainer to 15 troops sponsored by the church of latter day saints. The Mormons, along with the United Methodist and the roman catholic churches, sponsor the majority of scout troops and cub packs in the country. The churches also filed an amicus brief for the Boy Scouts in last year’s supreme court case, saying scouting is “a character movement dedicated to teaching and inculcating particular moral and religious values.” John Eastman says the Boy Scouts live by the same principles they were founded upon in 1910. “It’s society that’s changed,” said Eastman, and put scouting on the defensive.
JOHN EASTMAN: What changed is the more open, confrontational challenge that was presented to the Boy Scouts after 1970, the rise of the homosexual rights movement, the rise of the more radical separation of church and state movement. When the attack on their position came, they had to defend their views and that made them more explicit.
RAY SUAREZ: But John Oldham, at the Psychiatric Institute, says it’s many people’s beliefs about homosexuality that are out of date.
DR. JOHN OLDHAM: Inherently attached to this issue is a very strong array of fears and anxieties, many of which may even be fairly understandable because they derive from a period when there were widely held beliefs about homosexuality that we now no longer subscribe to.
RAY SUAREZ: Oldham notes that when he began training in psychiatry as a young man, homosexuality was viewed as a type of diagnosable disorder. Psychiatry has abandoned that idea, making being gay nothing more than a part of human variety. It’s a very different interpretation of homosexuality from the one held by the leaders of troop 822 in Maryland.
BOB CADWALLADER: I don’t want to know… I don’t want to hear that you’re a homosexual. If nobody ever knew you were gay, the issue might never come up. But if at some point a leader said, “well, you know, I’m gay and it’s a good lifestyle,” I want him out, I want him gone.
RAY SUAREZ: Just as sure of his position on the other side of the issue is Abner Lopez. He is working hard to make Eagle, scouting’s highest honor, before he turns 18. I wondered what he would say if someone on his Eagle board of review, his final hurdle, asked him whether he would follow the Boy Scout’s policy excluding gays.
ABNER LOPEZ: I would say no. It’s against what I believe. And if that means leaving the troop and giving up my Eagle award, that’s fine.
RAY SUAREZ: So you’d be willing to make that sacrifice?
ABNER LOPEZ: Definitely.
RAY SUAREZ: For generations, American boys have repeated the scout law and oath…
BOY SCOUT: “Courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful…”
RAY SUAREZ: …And there’s rarely an argument about what those words mean. A scout is “obedient.” A scout is “clean.” A scout is “reverent.” But now some religious groups, and adult leaders, and the boys themselves have been led by those same words to very different conclusions about gay people and scouting.