Amid national pressure and plummeting membership, the Boy Scouts of America this year finally began to accept openly gay members. But the breakthrough came with a huge asterisk: The organization continues to ban gay scout leaders. As if to make that point loud and crassly clear, it last week revoked the charter of a troop in Seattle for standing by an openly gay scoutmaster. Geoff McGrath, 49, is just the kind of role model young people need: An Eagle Scout, software engineer, and outdoorsman who sails on Puget Sound and camps in Mount Rainier’s crater. And the Boy Scout troop at Rainier Beach United Methodist caters to a diverse community. Its other troop leaders are African American and Vietnamese. The church’s minister, Monica Corsaro, said McGrath is but “one part of a beautiful community. There was no hiding, no secret keeping. We had nothing to hide.”
But the BSA is stuck in the past. The ideals of scouting — physical fitness, civic engagement, love of nature — are sorely needed in today’s society, but not if the organization itself exists in a 1950s time warp. There had been hope that incoming BSA president Robert Gates might persuade the organization to drop its ban on gay scoutmasters. As defense secretary, Gates oversaw the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But more progress for the BSA now seems unlikely. It could have simply let McGrath and his troop be, to keep scouting alive in the way that works for inclusive communities. But there are no merit badges for inclusiveness in today’s BSA.