Scouting is an international movement. Although it began in Britain, it very quickly spread to other countries so that now there are more than 30 million members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. (And lets not forget the 10 million members of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts)
From its foundation, inclusion has been a central theme of the scout movement. The very first experimental camp on Brownsea Island deliberately included boys from a wide range of social class. It’s easy to forget how radical that was for Edwardian England. Most scout associations around the world are now co-educational and the British Scout Association has an equal opportunities policy that asserts that “no member should be discriminated against on the basis of their class, gender, ethnic background, nationality, sexuality, mental or physical ability and political or religious belief”. Those are words that could just be politically correct window dressing of course, and there are always going to be failures in putting them in to practice. But my experience has been that this is a policy which is taken seriously and real effort goes in to making it work.
All this is as it should be, and is true to the founding vision of Baden Powell.
Unfortunately, scouting’s instinct for inclusion is not put into practice everywhere, most notably in the US Boy Scouts of America. BSA excludes gay men and lesbians from leadership positions claiming that it “believes that a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys”. This is a policy which springs straight from the prejudice that regards all gay men and women as fundamentally disordered and it should have no place in the scouting movement. (It is worth noting that the Girl Scouts of the USA do not operate in such a discriminatory way, and their inclusivity has been criticised by US conservatives)
Just this morning I came across the case of Jennifer Tyrrell, a mother who became a cub scout leader after her son joined the movement. (My guess is, that’s how most adult volunteers get involved). BSA does not enquire about volunteers’ sexuality when they apply to join, but it does act swiftly to exclude homosexuals if their sexuality comes to light. Jennifer is a lesbian. After serving as ‘Den Leader’ for about a year and having been elected as pack treasurer, she suddenly received notice that her membership had been revoked on the grounds of her sexuality.
She has launched an online petition calling on the BSA to change its policy of exclusion which has so far received more than 145 000 signatures, and of course I’ve signed it.