The decision by the Boy Scouts of America earlier this week to reaffirm its policy denying membership to gay scouts and scout leaders is a setback for the organization and the outdoor industry as a whole.
At a time when the industry is working hard to involve more youth in the outdoors, one of its most historic and iconic youth organizations is turning away willing members with a policy of exclusion and discrimination.
Not only do these decisions deprive people of a great American outdoor tradition, it sends a dangerous message to the Boy Scouts’ more than million youth that their experience is only a privilege for some. There is no honor in choosing a path rooted in fear, cowardness and ignorance.
The outdoor industry needs to loudly push back against those type of messages. The outdoors and its organizations are for everyone, no matter a person's sexual orientation, religion or color of skin. The beauty of the wilderness is that there are no fences or borders to separate us.
That's why it's extremely disappointing that when SNEWS contacted the Outdoor Industry Association, the supposed champion voice of the outdoors, the organization said it had "no statement" on the matter. Their silence on such a issue is equally as damaging.
While it might be easy for the industry to brush off the Boy Scouts as an outcast — exclusionary decisions such as these tend to lead to the eventual decline of an organization, and Boy Scout membership is declining — like it or not, a majority of Americans associate youth and the outdoors with the organization. Furthermore, this policy aside, the Boy Scouts do a lot of good helping foster future outdoor participants and leaders.
Yes, there are many other, more progressive outdoor youth alternatives, such as Big City Mountaineers and NOLS — and the Girl Scouts of America has had a non-discriminatory policy in place since 1980 — but we can’t just leave the old guy behind on the trail, just because he’s a little slow.
The outdoor industry needs to come together through strong speech, finance and personal outreach to educate and return the Boy Scouts to a respected inclusive voice representing our community. While the organization’s leadership claims it has the support from a majority of its members in this most recent poor decision, we think it miscalculated.
It’s time to get the Boy Scouts on the right trail.