Boy Scouts Delay Gay Vote. Should LGBT Community Be Angry or Patient?

Asking for more voices is not necessarily a bad thing


Who could say no to this face? Who?

The executive board of the Boy Scouts of America today decided to punt the issue of allowing gay members until May and allow some 1,400 voting members of their national council to help make the decision at their annual meeting:

After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy. To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers' work on a resolution on membership standards.

Demonstrating how far out of step I am with this gay community I'm allegedly part of, I thought this announcement was good news. Scout families delivered more than a 1 million signatures on Monday in support of allowing gay scouts. It seemed that there was a significant support by its own membership and that opening up the vote would increase the likelihood of change.

But what do I know? Folks are pissed. Here's a response from the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation (GLAAD):

"An organization that serves youth and chooses to intentionally hurt dedicated young people and hardworking parents not only flies in the face of American principles, but the principles of being a Boy Scout," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. "The Boy Scouts of America is choosing to ignore the cries of millions, including religious institutions, current scouting families, and corporate sponsors, but these cries will not be silenced. We're living in a culture where hurting young gay people because of who they are is unpopular and discriminatory. They had the chance to end the pain this ban has caused to young people and parents, they chose to extend the pain."

Y'all, it's three months. Three. Months. I am curious as to why GLAAD thinks a vote taken today would be more likely to go in their favor? What if the executive board did vote today and the vote failed? How far back would this effort had been pushed then?

Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality (and whom Reason.tv interviewed here) was also disappointed:

"This is an abdication of responsibility," said straight Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, the founder of Scouts for Equality. "By postponing this decision, the BSA has caved to those who argue that their anti-gay attitudes trump basic Scouting values of kindness, courtesy and bravery. Scouting was built on a foundation of respect and dignity. Today, the BSA cracked that foundation."

The frustration is palpable, but feels a bit overwrought. It's reminiscent of the frustration at the amount of time it took to eliminate the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. There were surveys. There were interviews. There were hearings. There were classes on it. And there was an endless amount of kvetching about how long it was taking, and even discussions of President Obama ordering an end to the policy through an executive order.

But there's a reason why large institutions are slow to change, particularly when participation is completely voluntary, like it is for the United States military and the Boy Scouts. The leadership of the institution, as separated as it is from a significant chunk of its membership, needs to determine that the institution is prepared for the cultural change. Blame it on our nation's current apparent worship of executive power, but it's a myth to believe that "leadership" involves the ability to simply change an institution's culture with a snap of the fingers. It doesn't work that way. In fact, that attitude is the hallmark of a bad leader, the bureaucratic middle manager who thinks he can control his company culture through the formalization of a host of written policies.

As all the research and interviews and planning dragged on while the military managed the dismantling of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the information that came out became more and more clear that, by and large, its culture was going to handle the change just fine. Confidence in the transition increased. Resistance practically melted away among military leaders. The change has been a complete success.

More importantly, because of the time spent getting cultural buy-in for this policy change, there will be no going back, ever. If Obama used executive power to simply order a military change, well the next president could simply reverse it. But because, ultimately, a vast majority of the "stakeholders" came on board, the likelihood of the reversal of the policy is about non-existent, regardless of what some social conservative politicians might say.

Putting the Boy Scout membership change to a large vote may appear like "wimping out," but only if you refuse to acknowledge the voluntary relationship between the parts of the organization.

If advocates of gays joining the Boy Scouts are truly confident that their time has come, they really should be celebrating this decision. They need to be continuing to work with the various troops in pushing up cultural change from the bottom, not expecting a handful of people at the top to order it with a stroke of a pen.