(CNN) — When the Boy Scouts of America found out den leader Jennifer Tyrrell is a lesbian, the organization’s Ohio River Valley Council sent her a letter saying “you must immediately sever any relationship you may have” with the Scouts.
“You should understand that BSA (Boy Scouts of America) membership registration is a privilege and is not automatically granted to everyone who applies,” the group wrote in the April 12, 2012, letter that Tyrrell, a 33-year-old mom in Ohio, photographed and sent to me recently. “We reserve the right to refuse registration whenever there is concern that an individual may not meet the high standards of membership the BSA seeks.”
That reference to “high standards” is apparently the Boy Scouts way of saying gays and lesbian scout leaders need not apply.
You may have heard people describe the Boy Scouts as gay-friendly this week, since the group voted to amend its draconian policies that banned “open or avowed homosexuals” from participating in the group as Scouts.
The 103-year-old organization — known for its worthwhile efforts to teach kids to tie knots, survive in the woods and become more civic-minded adults — decided on Thursday that gay Scouts should be able to participate in the organization. But not gay and lesbian leaders.
The Boy Scouts’ 1,400 voting members approved the change with more than 60% of the vote. Still, the Scouts will have a hard time escaping the organization’s new reputation as a den for outdated thinking and discrimination. The group’s attitudes on gay rights are “more out of style than the scout socks,” said Kelsey Timmerman, a former Eagle Scout who mailed his badge back to the organization because of its discriminatory policies.
“I never wore those damn socks,” he said, laughing.
It’s clear the Boy Scouts are lost in the woods.
Timmerman represents the core of the scouting organization’s problem. He’s 34, straight and the father of two kids. He credits the Scouts with helping him become an outgoing, confident and successful person. “Scouting was awesome,” he said.
But he wouldn’t enroll his son in the program unless gays and lesbians are allowed to be Scouts and Scout leaders, too. He doesn’t want them to learn to discriminate from an organization that claims to value kindness and bravery.
The same goes for Tyrrell, the former Tiger Cub den leader in Ohio. Her son Cruz would love to be able to participate in the Scouts again, she said. And she would love for him to be able to do so. She noticed improvements in his maturity and confidence when he was part of the group.
But she won’t go back unless everyone is welcome.
“They’re teaching them to be bigots essentially,” she said. “This world is changing so quickly. You can’t raise leaders for tomorrow on principles founded 100 years ago.”
When I spoke with Tyrrell earlier, I sympathized with her wanting to celebrate the proposal to include gay Scouts as a “tiny step in the right direction.”
Hundreds of thousands of people had petitioned the Scouts to allow gay kids to participate. Ryan Andresen became a national celebrity of sorts after he was refused his Eagle Scout award because he’s openly gay. (Ellen DeGeneres had him on her show and gave him a $20,000 scholarship.)
I am certainly thankful the Boy Scouts did decide to allow all openly gay kids to be members.
But it’s frustrating and unfair that Boy Scout leaders also affirmed discrimination against adult scout leaders. The Scouts shouldn’t tell children there’s nothing wrong with gay kids, but that there is something mysterious and dangerous about gay and lesbian adults.
For one thing, it’s illogical.
“How does a (gay Scout) commit his life to an organization who he knows full well is going to dump him the day he turns 18?” Tyrrell asked when we spoke in April, before this week’s vote. “It would be really hard for that boy to believe in trustworthiness and loyalty and all those things that are important as a Scout.”
Gay kids: fine. Adults? Not so much.
The problem may be that the Scouts are listening too much instead of making decisions with conviction. They’re “licking their finger and testing the wind,” as Timmerman put it, trying to figure out how to please all constituencies. That’s, of course, impossible. The anti-gay Family Research Council recently uploaded a YouTube video (watch it; this sort of over-produced fear-mongering has become a hilarious parody of itself) saying that the Boy Scouts were “abandoning their moral compass” by thinking of including gay Scouts.
I don’t think the Boy Scouts of America has abandoned its compass.
But it’s clear it still needs to be recalibrated to the times.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.
Editor’s note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist at CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.