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Struggle for the Soul of the BSA

     Just prior to the release of the Dale decision, Rolling Stone magazine published a 6,500+ word Special Report on BSA's discrimination against gay youth/adults. The report was published in the July 6-20, 2000 issue. Below is a transcription of that article:

The Struggle for the Soul of the Boy Scouts
by Chuck Sudetic

     The grand courtroom of the United States Supreme Court was filled to capacity. A team from Bill Clinton's Department was there, as was the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Busloads of law students and gay activists filled the spectators' gallery, and outside, television crews waited while conservative Christians held placards warning of hellfire and damnation. The case on the docket: 99-699, the Boy Scouts of America vs. James Dale. The issue at hand was the constitutional right of the Boy Scouts, a self-described private organization, to deny membership to gays. The Boy Scouts' attorneys would argue today that homosexuality is immoral and unclean, and that a gay man like James Dale cannot exemplify and transmit Scouting's core values of loyalty, bravery and courage.
     James Dale, who is twenty-nine now, had earned his Eagle, the highest award in the Boy Scouts. Through eleven years of Scouting, he had earned dozens of accolades, including membership in the Order of the Arrow, an honor roll for those who specialize in service to others. Dale's father and mother were active in Scouting, and James, who had become an assistant Scoutmaster, was looking forward to a lifetime in the organization. In July 1990, however, his local Scout council informed him that he had been expelled for being homosexual. Dale had never heard of any such rule against gays, so he sued for reinstatement.
      Thus began an ordeal that would last ten years and would, finally, come down to a one-hour hearing in the Supreme Court on April 26th. In that decade, Dale's case had become a cause celebre, the latest battleground in the ongoing culture wars. During that time, Boy Scout bureaucrats invented rationale for the ban, based on he Scout Oath to be "morally straight." Still, Supreme Court Justice David Souter noted during the oral argument that the Boy Scout Handbook does not spell out any policy banning gays. "It doesn't say anything about arson or forgery, either," replied BSA lawyer George Davidson. Davidson, who had difficulty explaining the nuances of the Scouts' position (which is a variant of "Don't ask, don't tell"), claimed that it came down to the First Amendment right of an organization to decide who can't be a member.
     Based on precedent alone, the odds are not good for Dale. This Supreme Court has frowned on state interference in a private group's right to freedom of association. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia may have signaled how the Court will ultimately frame the case when he said, "Our law simply prevents the state from diluting or imperiling the message that an organization wants to convey."
     As lawyers and spectators spilled out into the bright spring sunlight, a few tried to guess the breakdown of votes. "Five to four, BSA," someone said. "No, I was thinking more like 6-3," a lawyer replied. The Supreme Court will publish its decision by late June.
     No matter what the justices decide, the Boy Scouts of America has suffered irreparable damage. The New York Times, Boston Globe , Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and other prominent newspapers around the country have lambasted the group for clinging to outdated prejudices. Highly qualified volunteers have abandoned it in protest. The United Way, which contributed $83.7 million to the BSA in 1996 (the last year for which statistics are available), has stopped funding Boy Scout activities in some regions, as have some corporate foundations. Traditionally tight bonds with local and federal government agencies have been weakened or broken. These trends are likely to accelerate if the Boy Scouts prevail.
     Should Dale win the case, the BSA will face mutinies large and small - most significantly by the religious groups that the organization counts on for financial support. The Mormon Church, the largest  sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the U.S., is fiercely opposed to admitting homosexuals and has stated that it will end its nine -decade-long affiliation if gays can join. This would mean the departure of more than 412,000 Scouts who are sponsored by the Mormons -- about twelve percent of the organization's membership - and the loss of massive organized adult support.
     How has the Boy Scouts of America found itself at this juncture? And what does it mean to be a Scout in the twenty-first century? After six months of looking into these questions, I've become convinced that the BSA is really two organizations. The first, its heart and soul, is composed of the millions of volunteers who spend their time with the kids, who put thousands of miles on their cars on camping trips, who say that less money and oversight from the national headquarters is perhaps better. For the most part, these volunteers sound like the majority of Americans. They prefer to live and let live, and they express a wide variety of opinions on the gay issue. This group, I discovered, knows very little about the other half of the Boy Scouts: BSA Inc., the salaried bureaucracy whose well-being depends on constant fund-raising, much of it through alliances with old-line conservative religious groups like the Mormons, the Baptists and the Catholics.
     In its ninety-year history,  BSA Inc. has been resistant to cultural change and proud of it. It ostracizes dissenters. And it is secretive: Not a single current BSA official agreed to be interviewed for this story. When the organization's public-relations department learned of my inquiries, I received two calls informing me that I was banned from contact with any troop in America, and to stop calling anyone connected to the Boy Scouts.

The Heart and Soul of Scouting

     The volunteers prove to be friendlier. One Saturday in April, more than 100 Boy Scouts and about fifty adults stand silently at attention parking lot at the Kinzua Bridge State Park in northwestern Pennsylvania. They pledge allegiance to the flag, then, reciting the Scout Oath, they promise to do their duty to God and country, to help others always and to keep themselves "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
     The Scouts break ranks and spread out beneath the huge steel trestles of the Kinzua railroad bridge. At 301 feet high, the bridge was one of the world's tallest a century ago; now it is an antique observation deck overlooking the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Many park visitors drop litter from the bridge, and each Spring Boy Scouts clean up the valley below.
     Geoff Moshier is a curious seventh-grader who arrived with Troop 87 from Big Flats, New York, a bedroom community for people who work in the offices and laboratories of Corning Glass. All of the Scouts at Kinzua are here for a good time, but most of them, like Geoff, are also working toward a goal. "I want to get my Eagle," he says.
     To qualify for the Eagle Badge, boys like Geoff have to complete a battery of tests before their eighteenth birthday. Fewer than three in a hundred succeed. Geoff's dresser drawer already contains merit Badges for wood-carving, archery, swimming, small-boat sailing, canoeing and other skills. Five more gets him there.
     The merit-badge structure, the key element of the Boy Scouts program, mixes challenges and rewards to nurture self-esteem and to inculcate social values. It is a brilliant system, a gentle meritocracy that turns boys into citizens.
     Ray Benjamin, an assistant Scoutmaster, directs the extraction of a picnic table that had been thrown into the valley. A reserved, sharp-eyed forty-five-year-old man, Benjamin gave up vacation time to come here. "A lot of people don't want to get involved," he says softly. "There ain't nobody gettin' paid here."
     Since the founding of the Boy Scouts in the United States in 1910, volunteers like Ray Benjamin have taught boys like Geoff Moshier to fire rifles, shoot arrows, paddle kayaks and perform first aid. Donating their time one meeting a week, one camping trip a month, plus commitments to fund-raising projects - the volunteers have also taught the Scouts how to act in an emergency, how to rescue someone from drowning, how to balance a checkbook and invest in the stock market. In talks around the campfire, they have told ghost stories, taught the boys silly songs and passed on lessons about elements of life they have found most abiding. About the policy banning gays, Ray Benjamin says he leans toward the status quo: "I had a problem once when I was younger. I was bothered by somebody." He divulges only that the incident occurred in a church group, not the Boy Scouts.
     Like many Scout leaders I met that day, however, even Ray Benjamin says he would adjust if the Supreme Court rules that states have the right to prohibit the Boy Scouts from banning gays. " I would be uneasy if I knew my sons had a gay troop leader - unless I knew him," he says. "And if the guy's an Eagle Scout, he's got to have decent credentials."
     James Dale had more than enough credentials. In addition to being an Eagle Scout, he taught Sunday school in the local Lutheran church. With his square jaw and earnest countenance, he resembled the all-American boys who graced the cover of Boy's Life, the Scout magazine.
     Dale says he came to Scouting because his father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and his older brother had joined the Cub Scout pack at church. "I wanted to join earlier than age eight," he says. Dale's brother, who is also gay, dropped out of Scouting early on. But Dale took to it with a passion and stayed with it during the years he attended a military high school, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. "Boy Scouts was community," he says. "It was a place where I felt I belonged. I did other things. I was in soccer and basketball. But nothing fit as well as the Boy Scouts. I felt I didn't have to be the best football player or run the fastest. In the Boy Scouts, I could be who I was. They valued me for who I was."
     Dale attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he learned about the local gay community. At nineteen, having the support of others gave him the confidence to come out publicly at school. Within three months of joining the school's lesbian and gay organization in his sophomore year, he became its co-president. But he did not mix his work in the Rutgers gay alliance with his enthusiasm for Scouting – they were two separate worlds. He says he did not know at the time that the Boy Scout had a policy banning gays.
      After Dale's picture appeared in the local paper story about a gay youth workshop, the BSA sent Dale a letter expelling him from the Boy Scouts, without the courtesy of an explanation. "It was like a kidney punch" Dale says. "I felt betrayed. This was the organization that taught me how to be me." He had to get an attorney to pry the reason out of them. The BSA then announced to Dale that it barred membership to homosexuals.
     Dale sued in a trial court in Monmouth County, Jersey, and lost in 1995. Patrick J. McGann's opinion was a diatribe against homosexuality. "Men who do those criminal and immoral acts," he raged, "cannot be held out as role models. BSA knows that."
     Last August, the case major turn in Dale's favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the BSA had violated a state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
     In my interview Dale, it became obvious that the Boy Scouts had picked the wrong man to hold immoral and unfit. Dale, who served in the Naval Junior ROTC as a teen, is the very definition of a straight arrow. "Scouting is for everyone," he said. "Scouting to me wasn't about sexuality or about gay or straight. It was about being the best person you could be."

BSA Inc.: Inside the Bureaucracy

     The Boy Scouts' 1.3 million adult volunteers who drive the organization have a high degree of autonomy. The central office in Irving, Texas, applauds the self-sufficiency of the roughly 300 Councils that run the local programs, each of which is generally made up of a volunteer board supported by a professional staff. But even on matters that directly affect the volunteers - such as budget priorities or the anti-gay policy - those who actually work with Scouts have little or no voice in the decisions made at the national office, say volunteers who have decades of experience with the BSA. They say input from the volunteers is unsolicited and, in fact, unwanted. "It's frightening at times," says a veteran volunteer. "Whenever someone tries to explain something to them, even when it's common sense, they say, 'That's your problem.' Even with things that can be demonstrated to benefit them."
     The BSA's top decision-making body, the national executive board, has just over sixty  volunteer members, nearly all of them established elites: business executives and clerics; a retired Air Force general; the chairman of Lockheed Martin, the largest U.S. defense contractor; and Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director. Their prestige and power enhance the Boy Scouts' credibility and fundraising clout. But, volunteers say, as with other nonprofit corporations, the board members are too preoccupied with their busy lives to give much thought to the Boy Scouts. The board's president, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., runs one of the world's most powerful telephone and Internet companies, SBC Communications, the parent company of Southwestern Bell.
     Whitacre did not respond to repeated interview requests. But notably, SBC, as well as other corporations run by members of the BSA's national executive board, does not discriminate against gays in its hiring policy.
     According to two volunteers who each have more than forty-five years in the Scouts, the BSA has heavy influence over much of the decision-making by the national board. Under the BSA's bylaws, the members of the national executive board are elected each year by several thousand voting delegates to the BSA's annual convention. These delegates, however, are only allowed to vote yes or no on a single slate of candidates. A nominating committee selects the candidates according to the recommendation of the chief Scout executive, says a volunteer. The delegates are not given the opportunity to vote down individual candidates without rejecting the entire slate. The delegates typically approve the slate and in so doing churn out boards that may defer to proposals made by BSA Inc. "It perpetuates the power of the professionals who run the organization with an iron fist, even though there is the appearance of a democratic process," says a source.
     The top paid executives of BSA Inc. work out of a modest four-story brick building surrounded by a well-manicured lawn in the wealthy Dallas suburb of Irving. The national executives form the top rung of a hierarchy of about 3,800 professional Scouting managers who work in the head office and in the 300 self-funded local councils scattered throughout the country. From 1993 until the end of May 2000, the chief Scout executive was Jere Ratcliffe. Volunteers say Ratcliffe and his Number two man, Michael Hoover, have been the power brokers of the organization since 1993. (The man who has just succeeded Ratcliffe, Roy Williams, well-respected twenty-eight-year veteran of the BSA who, insiders say may be amenable to change.)
     Ratcliffe, a Tennessee native, has valiantly upheld the organization's exclusion of "gays, girls and the godless," otherwise know in Boy Scout jargon as the three G's. According to the speech that he gave seven years ago to Scout employees and volunteers, Ratcliffe proclaimed, "Another set of issues that we face are the constitutional issues we deal with - those referred to in the field as the three G's. Make no mistake on where the BSA stands on these issues. Our position is not going to change!" The BSA has successfully fought ever lawsuit brought against it by atheists and has won at least eight legal challenges to its refusal to allow girls to join its traditional Scouting programs.
     Scouting volunteers hail Ratcliffe as a fund-raising genius who effectively wrests big donations from corporations. He has been credited with streamlining the organization and applying management techniques suggested by the BSA's corporate board members. During the years Ratcliffe spent at or near the top, the organization's national office saw its revenue outstrip expenses by widening margins. In 1989, the operating surplus stood at $4.4 million; by 1998, it had risen to $17.1 million, with total revenues at $155 million from membership fees, sales of magazines and Scouting materials, investment income and contributions.
     Ratcliffe received a compensation and benefits package worth $537,314 in 1998. Roxanne Spillett, head of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, a nonprofit corporation of comparable size, had a package of $265,962. The BSA national office's financial success may help to explain Ratcliffe's salary, and why the board apparently took no action against him when he was arrested in 1997 for trying to carry a loaded handgun and twenty-eight bullets onto a commercial airplane in Florida. Ratcliffe issued a statement saying it was all just an honest mistake, but news reports said he did not even have a license to carry a concealed weapon in Texas.
     Ratcliffe oversaw one of the biggest charities in the country, rated seventeenth out of 400 in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy survey, with income of $649 million in 1998 and total expenses of $566.6 million. The United Way is a significant financial backer, but it ties some of its funding to the Scouts' efforts to involve minorities. The BSA may have crossed the line in its effort to produce high minority-recruitment figures, as demonstrated by a recent scandal in the Dallas area - just ten miles from the BSA headquarters.
     The United Way in Dallas has contributed more than $10 million to the BSA's local Circle Ten Council since 1991. In April, inspectors from the U.S. Postal Service raided the council's offices in Dallas. According to the Dallas Morning News, they were acting on a tip that the council's paid executives had pressured employees into inflating membership rosters by up to thirty percent and had left inactive troops on its registration lists in order to back requests for millions of dollars in donations from the United Way and others.
     Dale Draper, a former employee of the Circle Ten Council, blew the whistle. "When you get funding, they want to know if you're serving minority areas," says Draper, a Mormon and a graduate of Brigham Young University with a specialization in Boy Scout management. Draper says Circle Ten's executives used money from the council's budget, which is largely covered by contributions from the United Way and other organizations, to pay registration fees for Scouts, volunteers and troops that did not exists. The money went to the office of the BSA. Draper resigned his position council seven months after internal BSA auditors reported that there was no wrongdoing at Circle Ten. "You know how you've got the good o1' boy system," Draper says. "I think that was in place in this situation." The local BSA council president admitted some irregularities occurred but denied that the problem was widespread.
     The BSA is dependent not only on the United Way but also on many government-related organizations – even though the Boy Scouts has maintained through two decades of discrimination lawsuits that it is a private organization. But since its earliest days, the BSA has sought to maintain strong ties to church and state.
     Every United States president since William H. Taft has been the BSA's honorary president. In 1916, Congress granted the BSA a charter as a "patriotic society," a privilege it now shares with the United States Olympic Committee, the American Legion and similar institutions. This charter, which can be repealed or amended at any time, is crucial to the BSA's paid employees, because it effectively grants the organization a monopoly on the Boy Scouting program in the United States, and even on the term Boy Scout. An act of Congress permits the BSA to use uniforms similar to those of the Army, Navy and Marines. Congress has also authorized the U.S. military to loan equipment to the Boy Scouts without charge and to sell the BSA obsolete or surplus material. "Every single Scout camp depends on equipment from the military," says Bill Kirkner, a former volunteer Scout who ran a Boy Scout camp in Maryland for several summers.
     Every four years, a U.S. military base, Fort AP. Hill in Virginia, hosts the National Jamboree, a giant camping festival that attracts tens of thousands of Scouts from all over the world. Government support for the BSA also comes in the form of access to public schools, including opportunities to recruit boys during school hours. Public schools, police departments, fire departments and other civic organizations also sponsor troops. But, volunteers say, these and other secular Scouting participants do not have as much influence on policy making at the national level as the churches that support large blocks of Boy Scout troops.
     "Power in the Boy Scouts of America has gravitated to the professionals, and they derive their power from the groups with the largest financial donations," says a volunteer. "These tend to be the Mormons and the Roman Catholic Church." Another volunteer, with more than fifty years of involvement in the BSA, says, "It would take a major effort from outside the organization to change how the BSA views the Mormons and Catholics."
     The Mormons in particular have deep bonds with the Boy Scouts. Almost all of the church's top leaders achieved the rank of Eagle Scout as young men, and Mormon elders use the Boy Scout program as an integral part of its youth ministry. If the Mormon Church carried out its threat to withdraw from the BSA, the Boy Scouts would not only lose about twelve percent of its membership but would also potentially be cut off from millions of Scout alumni who have supported the organization with their time and money. In 1995, Elder Jack Goaslind, the president of the Mormons' young men's organization and a member of the BSA's national executive board, was asked during a civil hearing how the top leaders of the church came to discuss their willingness to leave BSA if it becomes gay-friendly. Goaslind referred to the lawsuits against the BSA brought by the parents of children who had suffered sexual abuse by troop leaders. "Well, to be direct with you," Goaslind testified, "it was because of the number of cases that have come before the courts on different homosexual-conduct acts that it's been discussed thoroughly there. And the decision has been reached."

The Myth of the Gay Predator

     In a small town in rural Wisconsin, a nineteen-year-old Eagle Scout is deciding whether to leave home to make a career in movies. Like Steven Spielberg, who earned his merit badge in photography by turning his Scout buddies into actors in an 8mm film called Gunsmog, this. young man has earned a merit badge in film-making. For now, he's an assistant Scoutmaster. He owns four full uniforms – shorts, socks, shirt and belt - and he wears them when he's working with his troop at campouts and jamborees. But he has a secret. "If I were to stand up and do what was in my heart, I'd be kicked out," he says.
     "When I was eighteen, I thought that I would never be strong enough to tell anyone that I was gay," he wrote to me in an e-mail. "I was scared of the public humiliation, and I was scared of myself. I went to a park with a railroad bridge towering over a river. . . . I walked to the middle of the bridge and I stopped. I sat down and cried. I then remembered something a teacher I had once said: 'Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.' That's when I decided that what I needed was change. I walked off that bridge holding my head a little higher. It was that day that I first spoke to anyone about my sexuality." He has since come out to a few friends, but not to his family.
     "I suddenly became more scared of what could have happened that day," he continued, "than I was of the truth about myself. Since that point, it's been an upward battle with myself. Just knowing that there are young men in that same situation should be enough to wake the BSA up and show them the pain and hatred they are promoting."
     It is ironic that the BSA, whose program for developing self-esteem has proved so effective, has chosen to bar adolescents who could arguably benefit more from the program than their straight peers. Gay teenagers have a much harder time coping with their sexual identity than straights. Physical abuse and suicide are disproportionately higher among gay teens. More than four of every ten homeless young people say they are gay or lesbian.
     "Gay kids experience a great deal of social isolation," says Wendy Becker, a social worker who works with gay teens in Rhode Island. "And a group experience like Boy Scouting can be greatly beneficial, but not if the gay kids have to hide who they are. Gay Boy Scouts are living in a dichotomous world where the BSA is telling them they have to be honest and trustworthy and lie about their orientation. For a Boy Scout who takes that oath of honesty seriously, this is a very difficult duality to live with." She says that enforced silence only worsens their depression.
     Because the BSA has been vague about its reasons for the anti-gay policy, many volunteers don't realize that one of the main reasons for it has disappeared. The ban is historically rooted in an old myth which holds that gay men are more likely than straight men to prey on young boys. This prejudice has been disproved by pedophilia experts.
     "Having an interest in children is a sexual preference, just like having an interest in men or having an interest in women," said Robert Prentky, a forensic psychologist who has worked with sex offenders for twenty years. The Boy Scouts has, in fact, clearly recognized this point since the mid-1980s, when it published a pamphlet called "Youth Protection Guidelines" that dispelled the connection. But the policy against gays survived, due not only to lingering homophobia but also to the BSA's aversion to change and its desire to please its most loyal supporters.
     According to James Tarr, the chief Scout executive from the late Seventies until 1984, "If you had a person you knew was a homosexual, you would confront them, and they would resign quietly ." Before the laws began to be changed in the 1960s, the organization had even more powerful leverage than today: Homosexual sodomy was a crime in every state.
     Child sexual abuse had been a serious problem in the Boy Scouts since its founding. In the 1970s, however, the issue became urgent. Gays were emerging from the closet. Child molestation was becoming a topic of open discussion for the first time. The number of abuse lawsuits rose dramatically. And the Boy Scouts experienced a nightmare come to life.
     In 1974, a group of men founded a Boy Scout troop at a church in a needy neighborhood of New Orleans. They recruited boys whose parents had displayed little desire to take part in troop activities. In August 1976, an assistant Scoutmaster from the troop took a roll of film to a photo store. As the photographs were being printed, store employees spotted images of a boy having sex with two men. Police raids on the homes of Troop 137's leaders turned up copies of smut magazines, photographs of boys engaged in sexual acts, and evidence of a network of pedophiles and molesters stretching to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Massachusetts.
     Testimony in the ensuing criminal trial established that Troop 137's leaders had created the troop intending to prey sexually on the boys they recruited. The troop's Scoutmaster and two assistant Scoutmasters had been having sex with four Scouts on a regular basis. One of the men, Raymond T. Woodall, was alleged to have had oral and anal intercourse with boys nine to fifteen years of age and to have raped an eleven-year-old. Woodall was sentenced to seventy-five years in jail. Other members of the pedophile ring drew similar jail terms.
     The New Orleans horror was only one in a series of abuse cases that shook Boy Scout troops across the country in the Seventies. Most never made the headlines, and they remain unknown to BSA members even to this day. In his book Scout's Honor, a comprehensive look at sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, journalist Patrick Boyle wrote that during the 1970S and 1980s, the BSA banished about 4,000 people from Scouting, more than half of them for sexual abuse.
     During that time, the BSA gave Scouts and volunteers no training in abuse prevention, and some of the dismissed molesters were able to slip into other troops. Boyle writes that the BSA hushed up the abuse cases to protect the victims and their families, as well as the organization's clean image. In the Seventies, parents of Scouts who had been molested began to file lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America. The settlements and judgments in these cases - plus the costs of legal fees and higher insurance premiums - were soon costing the organization millions of dollars.
     About ten months after the trial of the New Orleans molesters, the BSA for the first time articulated its ban on homosexuals. In a March 1978 memo addressed only to executive-committee members, the BSA's president, Downing R. Jenks, and its chief Scout executive, Harvey Price, said no person who openly declares himself to be a homosexual could be a volunteer, a member or an employee of the Boy Scouts of America. The memo states explicitly that the policy was addressing "sexual preference" and not "sexual deviance or criminal sexual misconduct," an admission that it was explicitly directed against a class of people and not against persons engaged in improper behavior. "At the present time we are unaware of any statute or ordinance in the United States which prohibits discrimination against an individual's employment upon the basis of homosexuality," the memo says. "In the event that such a law was applicable, it would be necessary for the Boy Scouts of America to obey it." (The New Jersey law in the James Dale case is just such a statute.)
     Price says the sexual-abuse problem in Scouting, along with the bad publicity and costly lawsuits it generated, contributed to the decision to put the policy in writing: "All those factors were a part of it." His successor as BSA chief executive, James Tarr, agrees. "The pedophilia problem contributed to it," Tarr says, "because of the problem of incidents where people have harmed boys."
     Paying millions of dollars to the plaintiffs in abuse cases clearly taught the BSA that banning gay men and maintaining a file system on known molesters were not going to cut down on the abuse problem or the resulting lawsuits. In 1986, the BSA fought back in a new way. It introduced a child-abuse-prevention program that has since been hailed as one of the country's finest. The program forbids adults and Scouts from sleeping in the same tents and prohibits adults from inviting Scouts to their homes. Citing a study of convicted child molesters, the BSA guidelines on child abuse and molestation attempts to rid Scout volunteers of the false notion that homosexuals are a greater danger than heterosexuals.
Despite the BSA's new understanding about pedophilia, the organization's leadership declined to lift its ban on gays. Instead, the BSA's communications department worked with its PR agency, Edelman Worldwide, in 1991 to come up with a rationale for it to present to the public, according to evidence filed in a human-rights lawsuit in Washington, D.C., in 1991. The BSA for the first time began to assert that the exclusion of homosexuals is based on the Scout Oath, which requires Boy Scouts to be "morally straight," and on the Scout Law, which demands that they be "clean."
     "Because of these beliefs," their position statement says, "the Boy Scouts of America does not accept homosexuals as members or as leaders, whether in volunteer or professional capacities."
     In 1993, a discernible link became evident between the ban on gays and BSA Inc.'s strategy for raising funds from older, wealthier conservative people. In one of his first acts as chief Scout executive, Jere Ratcliffe gave a speech that was telecast to Scout executives nationwide over a satellite hook-up provided by the Mormon Church. "Between now and the year 2006, $6.8 trillion will pass from one generation to the next the largest transfer of wealth in the history of our nation," Ratcliffe said, according to a transcript provided by the BSA for a court case. "The individuals holding this wealth agree with our values and will be passing it to a generation that has demonstrated a lesser charitable attitude. Making contact with these older Americans before the wealth changes hands is extremely important."
     Ratcliffe specified which values he was referring to: "The BSA has always reflected the expectations that Scouting families have had for the organization," he said, "and we do not believe that homosexuals provide a role model consistent with these expectations."
     This strategy is mercenary, says Bill Kirkner, the ex-Scouting volunteer who is now chief technology officer for Prodigy, an Internet service provider. Kirkner used to stand up in front of church congregations, Rotary Clubs and other groups to make fund-raising pitches. "I would give that sermon on the aims and methods of Scouting and teaching kids about morals and ethics," Kirkner says. "For the folks in Irving, Texas, this is a business. They think they can make a lot of money this way." In 1993, Kirkner testified in a hearing that concerned a dismissed volunteer. He described his poignant departure from the Scouts, including a final lecture to a volunteer-training class: "I told them the mission of the BSA is to teach citizenship. It is to convince boys it is the right thing, the important thing, to stand up for what they think is right." After he finished and walked outside, Kirkner crumbled in front of a fellow volunteer. "I told him I could never do it again. I cried. I said, 'I'm lying.'"

The Future of Scouting

     Mark Edgecomb, an adult volunteer for a troop in upstate New York, is pained when he looks at the Boy Scouts today. "Before, when somebody saw a Boy Scout, there was instant trust," he says. "No matter where you were, if you saw someone in a Boy Scout uniform, you could go to him and get help. The uniform was a matter of pride. Nowadays, Boy Scouts are razzed and harassed and picked on."
     The decline in status of the Boy Scouts does not surprise Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, an analysis of the collapse of community in the United States. "We're back at Depression levels of civic involvement," says Putnam.
     The same malaise afflicted community spirit in America at the end of the nineteenth century, he says, when the lure of industrial jobs in the cities was breaking up farm towns. In response, between 1890 and 1910 Americans created civic institutions, such as the Boy Scouts, 4-H and the Boys and Girls Clubs, which everyone today takes for granted.
     In fact, these organizations have profoundly affected the nation for the better - especially the Scouts. A survey of former Scouts conducted for the BSA by Louis Harris and Associates found that boys who stuck with the program for at least five years were more likely than other boys to assume a leadership role in clubs or school organizations. They were also more likely to put the needs of others before their own and to cherish education and the environment. Boys who were Scouts for five or more years were more than twice as likely as their peers to graduate from college and almost twice as likely to build a household that earns more than $50,000 annually.|
     Although the BSA chooses not to view him this way, James Dale might be held up as a fine example of the good influence the Boy Scouts can exert. He now works for Poz, a magazine for people who are HIV-positive. "The reason I choose things like that is very much about my involvement with the Boy Scouts," Dale says, "and what they taught me about giving back to the community."
     In February, the Boy Scouts registered their 100 millionth kid (he was from Brooklyn). Half the current members of Congress were Scouts, as well as the entire crew of Apollo 13. But Scouting at its best is not about making celebrities. It is about taking kids who may not always fit in and giving them a chance to develop skills and friendships on a level playing field.
     Ben Isham is a slight, hyper twelve-year-old who signs up for every Scouting activity he can. He was born in Calcutta, India, and was adopted by a family in Williston, Vermont. He says he's been taunted at school because other boys find him different. "I've had to put up with that at school ever since the fifth grade," he says. "There are hotshots on the bus who've really been on me. Sometimes I get mad. It is discouraging." Ben says he finds Scouting to be a refuge: "Here, I don't have to be the best. There are no people here who put you down. No one ever made fun of me."
     Surprisingly, as a teenager in central New Jersey, James Dale found the Scouts to be less homophobic than the rest of society. "I think the Boy Scouts allows for the human factor a lot more than other organizations," he says.
     Around the campfire at Kinzua State Park, the adult volunteers of Troop 87 said they figured Dale will lose the case, but then so will the Boy Scouts, in the long run. "It should never have come to this," says Phil Moshier, Geoff's father. "There are a lot of good people out there who have a lot to offer to Scouting, no matter what their sexual preference. Just because someone is gay, it doesn't mean he'll force the gay lifestyle onto a boy. And having different kinds of people opens doors. It allows the boys to see how other people live. And they shouldn't be sheltered from this."
     Two weeks after the trip to Kinzua, the Moshiers and Troop 87 went to a Scout camp in Canada. "It's coed up there," Moshier says. "The girls have their own camping area. But other than that, they participate in every event."
     Scouts Canada, the country's official Scouting organization, is also open to gay people. "Sexual orientation has no bearing," says Andy McLaughlin, Scouts Canada's spokesman. "We have Vietnamese groups. We've got Muslim groups. We've got Jewish groups." Last November, Scouts Canada registered its first gay and lesbian troop, the 129th Toronto Rover Crew.
     Of course, a troop like Toronto's -- some of whose applicants checked off both the MALE and FEMALE boxes on the membership forms -- is BSA's worst nightmare. But perhaps a more democratic BSA, or a new version altogether, will emerge to fill the glaring needs of today's neglected young people. "We need to reinvent the Boy Scouts, or something like it that combines inculcating virtue with fun," says Harvard's Robert Putnam. "We need to be as creative as the people who invented the Boy Scouts."

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