May 29, 2013 10:37:56 AM
Last week the Boy Scouts of America reached a landmark decision when it changed its policies to allow openly gay boys into the organization. The new policy, which goes into effect in January, has been met with both applause and controversy.
Members of the Mississippi State University Spectrum, an advocacy and support group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said while the decision to allow gay Scouts is a step in the right direction, the organization still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusiveness. The BSA still does not permit gay troop leaders or officials.
"Until their policy is (inclusive) of all people regardless of their sexual orientation I still feel like they have a ways to go," said Laura Rawlings, the MSU advisor for the Spectrum.
Rawlings said by allowing openly gay Boy Scouts but not openly gay leaders, BSA is sending a conflicting message to children.
"We're sending the message that it's OK for you to be gay as kids but once you're a grownup you have to change," she said.
She also worries that the change in policy may lead some parents to pull their boys out of Scouting.
"There are probably going to be some parents who will withdraw their children, which is unfortunate because by doing that they are sending a message to their sons that something is wrong with gay people," Rawlings said. "I don't think that's the message that we should be sending to our children, but that is the perception," she said.
Rachel Rice, a council member of the Spectrum, echoed Rawlings' concerns that some parents might decide not to allow their children to be Boy Scouts, given the organization's new policy.
"I think it's heartbreaking that there are parents who feel that way," Rice said. "It's not a contagious disease. If your child interacts with someone who is gay, they're not going to 'catch the gay.' You have to let children be around diverse cultures. It is only going to make them better people. They're going to teach their children to be accepting of other people and hopefully get the message across that it's not a bad thing."
While some groups may be opposed to allowing gay Scouts, Rice feels having a supportive group who accepts your sexuality can be vitally important to a young child.
"It shows those children if they are in a Scout group with people who accept them and it's OK, then maybe they'll have a resource if they're feeling like their home life isn't the place to do that.
"I know at a young age it's hard for children who may be questioning themselves because they don't know where to go."
Local Scout Executive Jeremy Whitmore of the Pushmataha Area Council said while everyone may not agree on either decision to allow openly gay scouts or allow gays to be Scout leaders, he believes children benefit from being a part of the organization.
"While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth. Going forward, we will work to stay focused on that which unites us."
Spectrum council member Jacob Collins, who identifies himself as bi-sexual and is a former Scout, said the ban on gay leaders is especially disheartening.
"I still feel a connection to these issues because it does partially affect me," he said. "It's good that these kids can be openly out but I am still a little sad to see such a negative stereotype that every gay man is a child molester. It really irritates me and it really upsets me that those kinds of fears are still out there and that's the perception of what gays are. It's really sad."
Collins said that while he is troubled that the organization is still restricting its policy on Scout leaders, he hopes young Scouts will now feel comfortable expressing their sexuality.
"If they feel like they will be kicked out of an organization that they have grown up with childhood and teenage years, they might feel less likely to be open about who they really are. That's something that can restrict a person from being his or her true self. There is no reason why an individual, gay or straight, should feel like they can't be themselves."
Rice said she hopes the decision to allow gay Scouts will affect other aspects of society where gay people are fighting for equal rights.
"It seems like everything is going in the right direction and hopefully soon, we'll all have equality," she said. "I know with many politicians that are outspoken against gay rights, it's going to be hard for them to accept that things are changing. But hopefully they'll look at this decision and say 'We allowed that to happen and nothing bad happened. Nothing exploded. There wasn't an apocalypse."
Rawlings said the decision to allow openly gay scouts into the BSA ushers in a time of change.
"It's probably going to take time, especially in certain parts of the country but I think we'll get to the point where one's orientation doesn't matter just like one's skin color or ethnic background doesn't matter anymore.
"It's not going to be easy but the fact that the Boy Scouts came to this conclusion is kind of a hopeful sign."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah
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