Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Boy Scouts' decision makes no sense

By John D. Sutter, CNN
May 24, 2013 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boy Scouts of America voted to end its ban on gay Scouts
  • The organization will continue, however, to ban gay Scout leaders
  • John Sutter: The group can't have it both ways and should include everyone
  • Sutter speaks with a den leader who was ousted because she's a lesbian

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist at CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.

(CNN) -- When the Boy Scouts of America found out den leader Jennifer Tyrrell is a lesbian, the organization's Ohio River Valley Council sent her a letter saying "you must immediately sever any relationship you may have" with the Scouts.

"You should understand that BSA (Boy Scouts of America) membership registration is a privilege and is not automatically granted to everyone who applies," the group wrote in the April 12, 2012, letter that Tyrrell, a 33-year-old mom in Ohio, photographed and sent to me recently. "We reserve the right to refuse registration whenever there is concern that an individual may not meet the high standards of membership the BSA seeks."

That reference to "high standards" is apparently the Boy Scouts way of saying gays and lesbian scout leaders need not apply.

You may have heard people describe the Boy Scouts as gay-friendly this week, since the group voted to amend its draconian policies that banned "open or avowed homosexuals" from participating in the group as Scouts.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

The 103-year-old organization -- known for its worthwhile efforts to teach kids to tie knots, survive in the woods and become more civic-minded adults -- decided on Thursday that gay Scouts should be able to participate in the organization. But not gay and lesbian leaders.

The Boy Scouts' 1,400 voting members approved the change with more than 60% of the vote. Still, the Scouts will have a hard time escaping the organization's new reputation as a den for outdated thinking and discrimination. The group's attitudes on gay rights are "more out of style than the scout socks," said Kelsey Timmerman, a former Eagle Scout who mailed his badge back to the organization because of its discriminatory policies.

"I never wore those damn socks," he said, laughing.

It's clear the Boy Scouts are lost in the woods.

Timmerman represents the core of the scouting organization's problem. He's 34, straight and the father of two kids. He credits the Scouts with helping him become an outgoing, confident and successful person. "Scouting was awesome," he said.

But he wouldn't enroll his son in the program unless gays and lesbians are allowed to be Scouts and Scout leaders, too. He doesn't want them to learn to discriminate from an organization that claims to value kindness and bravery.

The same goes for Tyrrell, the former Tiger Cub den leader in Ohio. Her son Cruz would love to be able to participate in the Scouts again, she said. And she would love for him to be able to do so. She noticed improvements in his maturity and confidence when he was part of the group.

Dispute over Boy Scouts gay ban
Mormon influence on Boy Scouts
Tyrrell: Perkins 'twisted view' on gays

But she won't go back unless everyone is welcome.

"They're teaching them to be bigots essentially," she said. "This world is changing so quickly. You can't raise leaders for tomorrow on principles founded 100 years ago."

When I spoke with Tyrrell earlier, I sympathized with her wanting to celebrate the proposal to include gay Scouts as a "tiny step in the right direction."

Hundreds of thousands of people had petitioned the Scouts to allow gay kids to participate. Ryan Andresen became a national celebrity of sorts after he was refused his Eagle Scout award because he's openly gay. (Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and gave him a $20,000 scholarship.)

I am certainly thankful the Boy Scouts did decide to allow all openly gay kids to be members.

But it's frustrating and unfair that Boy Scout leaders also affirmed discrimination against adult scout leaders. The Scouts shouldn't tell children there's nothing wrong with gay kids, but that there is something mysterious and dangerous about gay and lesbian adults.

For one thing, it's illogical.

"How does a (gay Scout) commit his life to an organization who he knows full well is going to dump him the day he turns 18?" Tyrrell asked when we spoke in April, before this week's vote. "It would be really hard for that boy to believe in trustworthiness and loyalty and all those things that are important as a Scout."

Gay kids: fine. Adults? Not so much.

The problem may be that the Scouts are listening too much instead of making decisions with conviction. They're "licking their finger and testing the wind," as Timmerman put it, trying to figure out how to please all constituencies. That's, of course, impossible. The anti-gay Family Research Council recently uploaded a YouTube video (watch it; this sort of over-produced fear-mongering has become a hilarious parody of itself) saying that the Boy Scouts were "abandoning their moral compass" by thinking of including gay Scouts.

I don't think the Boy Scouts of America has abandoned its compass.

But it's clear it still needs to be recalibrated to the times.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT