What the Boy Scouts of America did last week was among the most grotesque examples of its anti-gay policy to date. Ryan Andresen, a California high school senior, was denied his Eagle Scout award after completing all the requirements, including his final project of building a “tolerance wall” to fight bullying, which he’d experienced as a gay teen. He’d been in the BSA long before he knew he was gay, from the age of six. Like many young people, he came to realize his sexual orientation as a teen. And his Scoutmaster allegedly decided that now, just before earning the BSA’s highest award, it was time to dump him simply because he is gay.
And that’s why it’s time for companies to dump the Boy Scouts. Last month Intel, the BSA’s then-largest corporate donor, decided to do just that, dropping all funding to the Boy Scouts shortly after a report revealed the names of big companies that give money to the anti-gay Boy Scouts while they claim to support diversity (some with financial donations to LGBT groups), and even many that have anti-discrimination polices that include LGBT people, like Intel. Among them are familiar names, such as Verizon, Bank of America, General Mills, Wells Fargo and Pfizer. That these companies would allow themselves to be connected to the kind of bullying and gay-bashing that Ryan Andresen experienced — told by the BSA that he didn’t honor a “duty to God” — is outrageous. And it’s time for them to stop funding it.
AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson was lauded when he came out against the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy but decided to stay on its board — which he’s expected to lead in 2014 — saying he can get more done to change the anti-gay policy than if he and AT&T simply pulled out of the Boy Scouts entirely. The same goes for Ernst & Young CEO James Turley, a board member who’d earlier come out against the policy.
But is it really the case that these companies will change the Boy Scouts and its hateful policy, or are they enabling the Boy Scouts and having it both ways? They do, after all, continue to reap the PR benefits of financially backing the Boy Scouts among those who support the organization (and AT&T is listed at the top of the BSA’s list of sponsors on its website) while they can assuage the critics by claiming the companies are working on their behalf. All the while, big money still goes to funding an anti-gay organization and to ejecting young people like Ryan Andresen.
The Boy Scouts has deep connections to the Mormon Church and to Catholic and evangelical groups, and a great many in its membership are among families in those faiths. It’s inconceivable that the Boy Scouts is simply trying to buy time, believing it inevitable that the organization will one day include gay youth, as many of the rest of us might believe. Why would it put off something that it believes it’s going to have to eventually do, in the process suffering much erosion in its public image?
No, the Boy Scouts is in it for the long haul, determined to exclude gay people forever. Membership is already down, but the BSA is not budging, staying true to its anti-gay mission. The only thing that may change that is if it becomes severely financially debilitated. But whether or not that is the case, companies, no matter their claims of good intentions, should not be funding bigotry.