Still a Long Way to Go

My favorite political news this week was that Newt Gingrich had dropped out of the presidential race. All things considered, withdrawing from the race is probably the greatest contribution of his political career. I suspect he will now go back to lecturing on the need for “family values,” i.e. denying eighty year old lesbians the right to marry their partners of half a century, while enjoying time with extramarital lover#50-turned wife#3. In other news, it’s obvious how homophobic a lot of Americans still are. First off, Coach Rob Brown, who is apparently an assistant coach for the Cornhuskers team in Nebraska (seriously, I have next to no interest in or knowledge of football and had never heard of this guy until now—I could tell you way more about Grover Cleveland’s isolationist conservatism than about the current Falcons roster) made a religiously-motivated statement against a proposed law in Omaha to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Let me be clear. There should be no legal penalties against Brown for making this statement. While we have historically and still do lag behind must of the West when it comes to granting equal rights for all, the United States’ commitment to free speech is arguably greater than that of any other country. I would like to keep it that way. However, legal consequences are not the same as professional consequences. Brown is employed the University of Nebraska. As a public institution, it has a responsibility to hire people who support equality for all. To fail in this regard reflects poorly on the university and is an insult to gay students and faulty, as well as to gay taxpayers who help foot the bill for Brown’s salary. Firing Brown for expressing a controversial position on abortion or health care would be wrong, because such a position would not denigrate anyone based on an immutable trait. Claiming that people do not deserve equal rights based on race, gender, or sexual orientation does denigrate people based on immutable traits. Thus, such a statement must be handled differently. In the case of private colleges and universities, I would likewise urge that professors who oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians be sent packing, as giving them employment sends the message that their bigoted beliefs are really not such a big deal. The idea of even one gay person being forbidden to marry because of his or her sexual orientation is more disturbing to me than the idea of every homophobic teacher in America being without a job. Is firing homophobic teachers a violation of religious freedom? No. I have already demonstrated on my blog that the Bible can be and was used as an argument for slavery. In order to avoid sounding like a broken record, I will simply urge everyone to go back and read my piece entitled “Gay Marriage and Other No-Brainers” for a more detailed examination of the Bible’s support for slavery and what this means for the issue of gay rights. In other news, the Boy Scouts of America, bastion of homophobia, is involved in a gay rights-related fracas yet again. I recently received an email asking me to sign a petition urging that the Boy Scouts of America change its policy banning gay scout leaders. For the record, the policy states: “Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.” The text of the policy was removed from the organization’s website in 2010, but it is obviously still in force. A lesbian mother named Jennifer Tyrrell was recently fired from her position as den master of her son’s scout troop because of her sexual orientation. There is no room for debate about whether or not this was the reason for her firing. According to U.S. News on MSNBC.com, “Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said Tyrrell was removed from the program for being in violation of the national policy regarding homosexuals. ‘This policy was understood by her and her fellow volunteers, but not followed, upon her registering in the program,’ he wrote in an email to msnbc.com.” The actions of the Boy Scouts of America are bigoted and completely unjust. As referenced above, such actions entail discrimination based on an immutable trait. For many years, Boy Scouts apologists loved to claim, despite the obvious wording in the BSA’s policy to the contrary, that the exclusion was based on fear of male scoutmasters sexually abusing boys. Even if this were true, the policy would still be asinine. Such logic seems to imply either that all gay people are pedophiles, that gay men are the equivalent of women (and that, therefore, letting a gay man sleep in a tent with boys is the equivalent of letting a heterosexual man sleep in a tent with girls) or both. Yet if it was not already, it must be painfully obvious now that the policy is rooted in opposition to homosexuality. If it were based on fear of sex abuse, why would the BSA exclude a lesbian from leadership? After all, a lesbian is a lot less likely to sexually abuse a boy than a heterosexual woman would be. However, as disgusted as I was and am with the Boy Scouts of America, I could not help but shake my head at Jennifer Tyrrell upon reading this story. In an email urging people to sign her petition, she said, “When Cruz told us last year that he wanted to be a Boy Scout, my partner and I were concerned. We knew the organization has discriminated against families like ours before. But the other families in Cruz’s group were so welcoming and supportive — they even asked me to be a den leader on the first day.” As soon as I read this, I almost did a face-palm. Why would she have ever gotten involved with the organization? It is clear that she did not intend to serve as a test case, as she did not begin protesting until the policy began to impact her directly. A civil rights movement cannot be run this way. Members of oppressed minorities, as well as their allies, must not be involved in institutions that support their oppression. I regret to say that as a little boy, when I was unaware of the pressing issue of gay rights, I was a boy scout. I have not been affiliated with the organization in roughly fifteen years. If I had it to do over again, I would not join. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I would not encourage him to join the Boy Scouts of America. And this is the difference between my views and those of Jennifer Tyrrell: if my son wanted to join the Boy Scouts of America, I would not let him. Instead, I would sit him down and explain to him why the BSA is a bad organization. Tyrrell should have explained to her son that the BSA is “mean to people like your mommies.” The vast majority of the time, children love their parents. If they know that a person or group is mean to their parents, they will generally not want to be associated with that person or group. This case is a cautionary tale about the futility of staying in bigoted organizations while opposing their policies. The fair-minded families who welcomed Jennifer Tyrrell must now make a choice. They can do what they should have done long ago and quit the BSA or they can retain membership and tacitly condone its policies. There is no third option. Those who support gay rights must learn to make sacrifices as members of other social movements have. Abolitionists refused to buy sugar or cotton because these products were made with slave labor. Blacks in Montgomery refused to ride the city’s buses in the 1950s because they were segregated. As a consequence of publishing his autobiography against slavery, Frederick Douglass had to leave his native land behind and go to Great Britain. If Frederick Douglass was willing to flee the country, surely those who support gay rights can avoid participating in the Boy Scouts of America. On a final note, I would like to respond to those who claim that the government cannot force the Boy Scouts of America to change its policy. That is indeed true. However, it is also true that the government has an obligation to deny the Boy Scouts of America the right to use taxpayer-funded property until it allows gays and lesbians to participate.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Still a Long Way to Go

  1. Well said. I love your line about Grover Cleveland!

  2. Thanks. That’s me: consummate history and politics nerd!

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