Viewpoint: The Boy Scouts Stoop to a New Low

Why their latest p.r. stunt will misfire, and what they need to do next

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

While the entire U.S., and indeed much of the world, was glued to television sets watching a massive manhunt for one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, the Boy Scouts of America thought it would be the perfect time to announce that they will finally be taking a long-delayed vote at a national meeting on May 20 about whether to overturn their controversial policy banning homosexuals from scouting.

(MORE: Boy Scouts Consider Ending Policy Banning Gay Members and Troop Leaders)

In p.r. parlance, this is called “burying the news.” It works like this: when an organization doesn’t want an announcement to get attention then they release the information on a busy news day, or a Friday, or in this case, both. The thinking is that more pressing news will overshadow the story; that the shift between weekday and weekend staffs at news organizations will help it “get lost in the shuffle”; and that by the time Monday rolls around, more current events will have overshadowed the announcement, essentially making it “old news.”

As a veteran media-relations counselor, I have executed this strategy myself. And depending on what is being announced, it can work. But in this case, it not only has no chance for success, it’s almost guaranteed to anger both the media and the interested parties and cast the Boy Scouts in a more negative lights. The end result is that not only is the issue not buried, it gets even more attention.

(PHOTOS: LIFE with the Boy Scouts, 1971: Photos from an Era of Change)

It’s not surprising that the Boy Scouts used such a misguided tactic. They have handled the public aspects of this issue badly ever since it first became a topic of discussion in the early 1980s. As recently as January, they announced that they would be voting on a resolution at a national executive meeting, only to contradict themselves by later announcing that the issue “needed more study.”

Not only that, but the compromise that will be voted on in May is sure to appease no one: it allows gay scouts but not gay or lesbian leaders. This calls to attention the sexual orientation of what is essentially a membership of underage boys while at the same time reinforcing the scientifically incorrect and blatantly homophobic stereotype of adult gays and lesbian as pedophiliac predators.

(MORE: Eagle Scouts Return Badges in Protest of Gay Ban)

I understand why the Scouts would prefer that this issue simply go away, but that’s not going to happen. The fight for gay and lesbian rights is arguably the civil rights battle of our time. Moreover, the Boy Scouts is running a grave risk of permanently damaging its reputation not only with p.r. blunders but also by being “on the wrong side of history.” If I were advising the Scouts in this situation, I would point out the following:

1. No decision you make is going to please everyone. This issue is too polarizing, beliefs are too strongly held, and you will likely lose members whatever you decide.

2. We live in a transparent world. Every discussion, every meeting, every e-mail and every vote is a public moment. If the head of the CIA can’t keep his e-mails private, you don’t have a chance.

3. Both presidential candidates opposed this ban, nearly 60% of the country supports gay marriage, and the opposition is literally dying off as younger people support gay rights by an even larger margin than do the elderly.

4. Diversity will not weaken the scouting mission, as has been shown in business, politics and even the military. The Scouts will end up stronger, more impassioned and more unified as a result of tolerance and inclusion.

But this is not a marketing issue. It is a moral issue, and the right decision should be strikingly clear.

491 comments
Todd_Cannon
Todd_Cannon

@TIME The're going to let gay boys tent together.They're saying kids dont know if they are gay guess boys get to tent w/ girls too

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

"There’s no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice.”


- Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

splawrence
splawrence

As a Boy Scout in the 1960s, this proposed step seems like a good one. Back in that day, leaders were gay, and certainly scouts were, too. No one discussed it, but it was obvious. BSA will get there again, and without the exploitation that then tolerated.

Derek.bolander
Derek.bolander

I'm a gay man and I really don't care if they don't allow gays—they should just be stripped of their non-profit status, however.


Letting them remain discriminatory will further hasten the demise of the organization’s influence. It's a dying school of thought and they should be allowed to fall on their own sword. At that point we can all move on to something more inclusive that still teaches the outdoor skills without the Christian tomfoolery.

PatrickReid
PatrickReid

Can someone explain why everyone is so concerned if Scouts, a private orgainzaion changes their policy?  If you don't like their policy - don't join or support.  Start or join your own organization that meets your needs and beliefs.  To be clear, I stay involved though because on a whole I believe their overall charter outweighs this one policy.   I have been involved with Scouts for years and internally have fought the policy, and vote to change it on internal surveys. I try to chang it because it was my organization I chose to join, and I would like to see it changed.  However, I don't tell other organizations that they have to change to meet my moral values. I tell every boy and their parent upfront - Scouts have a policy of not admitting open homosexuals, athiests or agnostics - not because they are evil, or are pedeophiles, but because it it based on the religous aspect of the organization.  If you don't agree with these policies please don't join.  Why are people only excited about 1 of the 3? . My son an Eagle Scout just changed rooms at college because a non-Scout wouldn't share a room with a gay.   So the organization must not be teaching as much homophic beliefs at you all think.

VivianM.Ramirez
VivianM.Ramirez

You are all sound like the pro nazis crowds back in WWII.  20 years from now I bet you will all be embarrassed for making this such an issue.

jeffl76
jeffl76

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Boy Scouts to ban adult gay members. Their message to gay scouts: gay adults are pedophiles and one day you will be too.

UnclePhil
UnclePhil

Announcing that a vote will take place doesn't sound like big news even on a slow news day.  If the timing of this action is accurately described as "stooping to a new low," then this speaks rather well for the BSA.

trygor
trygor

"arguably the civil rights battle of our time" OK, so when are we going to see the argument instead of the media fiat?

jumpbackcat
jumpbackcat

I'm not sure that "impassioned" and "unified" were the best choice of words to use in arguing in favor of gay Scoutmasters and boys running around in the woods.  The Scouts will end up "Stronger" sure sounds like an argument a pedophile would use.

jodiegilb
jodiegilb

It seems that BSA is stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  BSA obviously has the desire to address this, and indications 6-12 months ago pointed that they were going to lift the ban.  However, United Way, who is a principal financial supporter of BSA, has threatened to pull all funding if the ban is lifted.  Morally, yes, someone's sexual orientation shouldn't be an issue...but, lets face it, it takes money to run an organization and they need UW's money to function.

FoolKiller
FoolKiller

“It works like this: when an organization doesn’t want an announcement to get attention then they release the information on a busy news day, or a Friday, or in this case, both.”

The Obama administration should be the poster child for this tactic...

do2
do2

Only Time could assert with a straight face that allowing the LGBT crowd to take over the Boy Scouts will make BSA stronger.

As a father to 2 former Scouts I will reiterate the obvious: 1) 99.99% of BSA members do not live in Manhattan and write for hyper-liberal magazines; 2) NO parent in their right mind will allow their children overnight camping with condoning homosexual participants; 3) allowing the above will be the end of a great organization.  Period.

Jean-JacquesBurlamaqui
Jean-JacquesBurlamaqui

The Boy Scout Code requires that a boy be "morally straight". Homosexuals do not think straight, much less strive to control their inclinations and passions. Marrying another man to start a family is not "straight" thinking.


bbsnews
bbsnews

I don't know why it did not occur to me before, but the BSA has backed itself into a corner. They have nearly come to the conclusion that they will allow gay youths but still ban gay adults. That means the gay youth who is a good scout, and attains the status of Eagle Scout, because he is gay the day he turns eighteen he will be out.

He will not be able to help other youths attain the status of Eagle Scout. Nope, once that Eagle Scout turns eighteen he'll be out. So, given that this raises an entirely new set of question that I have not seen yet either here or elsewhere, I wrote a column about it with links to the stories and the way back machine and BSA's religious ties including those to Islam. See

"Sorry Gay Eagle Scout – as an Adult – You’re Out!", http://bbsnews.net/sorry-gay-eagle-scout-as-an-adult-youre-out/ for the whole sordid mess.

stirrinuptrouble
stirrinuptrouble

One would think the problem lies in the fact that it appears that everyone who is opposed is being forced to accept it, and is "shouted down" for voicing their own opinion. To play devils advocate here, what about the Gays and Lesbians that dislike straights? They are out there... in fact I know a few myself. In that case, they are bigoted... so the word works both ways, the truth is everyone thinks less of one group or another. So the right wing, Christians who do not agree with the LGBT lifestyle are bigots, and the LGBTs that do not agree with right wing Christians or anyone else who do not support their cause are bigoted as well. If we all practice tolerance, and understand that everyone does not agree or like everyone else we would all get along just fine. When 2, 3, 4 or however many other groups of people start trying to force their views on, or ostracize others, that party is at fault. The question at hand is not about immoral/moral acts or perversion, it is about not allowing others to speak freely about their own beliefs. Here is some food for thought, Islam as well, does not support or condone LGBT relations.

just_saying05
just_saying05

Why don't the gays just create their own kid club. Just because they are being allowed to be part of something does not make them part of them. I know so many people that do not care to be made  to accept the gays but they keep their mouths shut. So they just deal with them but do not accept them. Is that really what they want?

martin.nalor
martin.nalor

I think it's humorous how all the gays yell bigot when someone says their behavior is sinful or abhorrent.  There are all sorts of behaviors that societies object to because they are contrary to God's commandments and teachings or simply sickening to a reasonable and decent people.  Those who disagree with the homosexuals are no more bigots than the gays are born that way.  Being gay is a choice, and a poor one.  Don't get mad because people call you out for being a pervert.  It's just a fact.

tsoho
tsoho

"The fight for gay and lesbian rights is arguably the civil rights battle of our time"

The previous civil rights battle made the case that certain privileges should not be denied to a person simply because he was born with a different hereditary trait than another person.

This "civil rights battle" tries to expand that by arguing that a person should not be denied certain privileges merely because he participates in different behavior than others do.

I know that the claim is made that people are born gay.  That may or may not be the case, but the fact remains that it is the behavior people have a problem with more than the orientation.

As an example, consider the argument that a pedophile is born that way.  He may very well be born that way, and society might be convinced to leave a non-practicing pedophile alone, but we still do not accept the behavior of a practicing pedophile, and we would have a real problem with the argument that he should be given the right to live out his natural inclinations with society's approval because that is the nature he was born with.

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

I don't disagree that the BSA does some tremendous work and is a powerful force for overall good in this country.

But that doesn't excuse continued inappropriate treatment of innocent kids and adults simply because they're different. You call it a platform, I call it ongoing bigotry. When will it be time for them to correct their behavior? When will they stop teaching our impressionable youth that it's ok to ostracize those who are different? How long will supposedly good and moral leaders be permitted to behave in an immoral manner?

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

Absolutely false. Just because they haven't identified a gene means nothing as yet, and it need not be genetic in nature to be innate. I have never met anyone who can choose who arouses them, gay or straight. When did you 'choose' to experience physical arousal caused by a member of the opposite sex? Never, your body just reacts as it does. No choice in that whatsoever.

zenthrop
zenthrop

If gay people claim no power over their groin, they will have no power over my children.

EVER!!!! EVER!!!!!!!!!

bbsnews
bbsnews

The thing that is so compelling about this thread is how many homophobes that are willing to espouse their extremist bigotry for all to see.

Just like the years before Loving v. Virginia when black folks and American Indians were not able to marry white folks. And the whole question is surrounded by an extremist fundamental christianity in both cases.

Bigotry against how people are born is bigotry. Plain and simple. And I am appalled at how many bigoted homophobes have exposed themselves here.

Frankly, it's very frightening.

drcoolman
drcoolman

Do we really care who "angers the media"?  They are just that, media. They are not the rest of us.  Just maybe the boy scouts announced their decision to take the vote when they had planned to, and Boston happened, and rather than waiting they went ahead with announcing their decision when they had made it.  Nonetheless, the media will dramatize the situation anyway with speculative bull because otherwise they wouldn't have a way to further polarize the situation to promote their own self-importance by making more of it than it is.  The writer seems to believe that because he has previously "buried the news", everyone else does it.  Really?  Who does this a reflection upon? It is the author not the scouts.

NissimLevy
NissimLevy

The Boy Scouts should have as much right to ban gay youths as they do to ban black youths.

what1ever
what1ever

I would like to clear something up. Gays, by definition, are not pedophiles. Much in the same way than very few straight men are attracted to muscle bound, butch, overly masculine women; very few gay men are attracted to young, fresh-faced, underdeveloped boys.

Todd_Cannon
Todd_Cannon

@TIME @TIMEIdeas Truly the program could have handled the inclusion of Gay adult a hell of a lot easier the MINORS. At least adults can conc

Todd_Cannon
Todd_Cannon

@TIME @TIMEIdeas When all these rules were written, Gays, were not thought of. It is based on Sexual attraction, not body parts