USA TODAY op-ed by Alvin Townley
May 24, 2013

Scouting is bigger than any single policy: Column

Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to ease a divisive ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted into the organization.

by Alvin Townley, USATODAY

Hiking the Appalachian Trail with Troop 103, I learned two things: First, each Scout has his own pace and isn't inclined to hike at anyone else's. Second, everyone in our troop wanted to reach camp before sundown. Since our Scoutmaster made us hike together, we all had to walk at one speed and no Scout was ever completely happy. We were either moving too fast or too slow; five minutes rarely passed without a Scout pleading for another water break. But, by thunder, our ragged band of different ages, personalities and abilities would reach camp by sundown.

Likewise, the Boy Scouts of America's vote on its membership policy made nobody happy. But perhaps that's a good thing -- the Boy Scouts are moving, and moving together.

Following the vote, BSA will now grant membership to gay youth, while continuing to ban gay adults. The new policy will satisfy few constituencies inside or outside Scouting. For some, it seems too open; for others, too restrictive. But as Otto von Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible, and considering the divergent opinions inside the Scouting family, this was possible -- certainly not perfect.

But here's the positive side. Just as the public holds differing opinions on sexual orientation, so does the Scouting community. And in an era where many people deride the idea of compromise, the Scouts reminded us that Americans with opposing views but common purpose (in this case serving youth) can still meet in the middle. Yes, this compromise policy is fraught with inconsistencies and issues, but it's a step in the right direction. People will mutter about the pace, but BSA has chosen a good path.

For more than 100 years, the Scouting movement has flourished precisely because it attracts members from many backgrounds. Today, Scouting mirrors America's diversity; it welcomes members who are Catholic and Muslim, Buddhist and Baptist, Democrat and Republican, privileged and not, and now straight and gay (youth). Our 108,000 local units reflect our country's diversity and this new policy will help more families find a Scout troop where their child can thrive. And that's a positive start.

As the Scout community continues to grapple with the issue of inclusion, I hope America will remember that Scouting is much more than a national corporation and bigger than any single policy. It is ultimately a local program guided by dedicated volunteers who give countless hours to help young people become better adults.

Scouting is your local honor-roll student completing a service project to earn his Eagle Scout rank; it's the team of volunteers who faithfully take 20 Scouts camping, once a month, rain or shine; it's the troubled teen who finds direction with the encouragement of his brother Scouts; and it's what happens when a troop spends 10 days trekking through the Rocky Mountains, pushing limits and learning self-reliance.

So whatever your beliefs or politics, when you think about Scouting, please think about the Scouts and leaders you know in your own community. They truly are Scouting, and they deserve everyone's support.

Eagle Scout Alvin Townley wrote the books on Scouting, Legacy of Honor and Spirit of Adventure.

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Copyright 2013

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