Conservatives Are Okay With Gay Scouts If They Stay Closeted

This week, the Boy Scouts of America National Council will finally vote on whether to amend its policy to allow gay Scouts, though it would still prohibit gay Scout leaders. Conservatives continue to eagerly argue that maintaining the complete ban on homosexuality is important for “protecting” Scouts as well as the religious faith of the many churches that sponsor troops, though many people of faith support equality in Scouting too. But last week, the Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse presented this interesting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” interpretation of the ban:

Finally, an important distinction has been lost in the current debate. The Boy Scouts’ long-standing policy does not, by its terms or in practice, exclude people who experience same-sex attraction. Rather, the prohibition is on “open and avowed” homosexuality, and it is that prohibition which will be lifted if the resolution passes.

In other words, it’s apparently okay to be a gay Scout — it’s just not okay to acknowledge it. The problem isn’t whether there’s someone gay in a troop, but whether people in the troop actually learn anything about the existence of gay people. In contrast, multiple studies have shown that coming out is actually good for individuals’ health. Honesty to one’s self, friends, family, and community also embodies the Scout virtue of being trustworthy.

This argument actually compromises conservatives’ many claims about gay men being sex-obsessed pedophiles. Instead, it reflects an assumption that sexual identity should be denied or repressed, framed by Ruse’s plea to Catholic church sponsors to oppose the change. It’s basically an admission that opposition to lifting the ban has little to do with “protecting” anybody and more to do with maintaining religion-fueled animus against people who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Indeed, this approach jibes with how the Catholic Church tries to simply deny the existence of gay people.

By trying to posit both arguments simultaneously, the Family Research Council and other conservative groups demonstrate that they have no legitimate reasons for discriminating against gay Scouts. They support discrimination simply because they support anti-gay stigma.