Poor Boy Scouts. Earlier this year, their leadership made a fairly dramatic change in policy to allow gay people to become troop leaders, following on the heels of last year’s decision to stop kicking out gay Scouts. The move to end discrimination has cost the organization some members and donations from religious groups that were outraged about the change. But it’s also suffered smaller, pettier indignities—like its banishment from this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the premier political conference for evangelical Christians.
The DC summit, organized by the conservative Family Research Council Action, is headlined by no fewer than seven GOP presidential candidates. For many years, the Boy Scouts have had a place of honor at the event, presenting the American flag as the color guard. This year, though, the Scouts are nowhere to be found. In their place are boys from Trail Life USA, the outdoor adventure and character development group created last year as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. Joining them were American Heritage Girls, the religious alternative to the Girl Scouts.
Trail Life was founded by a religious-right activist from Florida, associated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, who was active fighting the Boy Scout policy change. The group’s official policy on gays says:
We believe that homosexuality is sinful and immoral, as is any sexual activity outside of the sanctity of marriage between a Man and a Woman. Consistent with this belief, we have specific policies that address membership and sin in both youth and adult members.
Trail Life also excludes Mormons and Jews because they don’t subscribe to the group’s particular theology.
A spokeswoman for the summit’s organizers didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Trail Life CEO Mark Hancock, at his booth in the convention hall, said his group was invited to replace the Boy Scouts color guard because of “the direction the Boy Scouts have taken. They think we’re a better fit.” Asked specifically if it was because of the acceptance of gays, Hancock demurred, saying it was simply the Boy Scouts’ “general departure from their traditional values” that prompted their exclusion.
Kim Luckabaugh, the DC-area coordinator for the more established American Heritage Girls, said her group replaced the Boy Scouts at the conference last year, when Trail Life was just getting off the ground, because “we are aligned ministerially. We are aligned in our values.” She says the FRC organizers have “been very kind and gracious to us.”
The booting of the Boy Scouts from the event isn’t all that surprising. The Family Research Council, which sponsors the Values Voter Summit, has been an ardent opponent of the Boy Scouts’ acceptance of gays. Earlier this year, FRC head Tony Perkins lamented that the Boy Scouts were moving “away from their moral standard of being morally straight and clean and moving into open homosexuality.” He claimed that both the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts “are done” as organizations because of their acceptance of gays.
A regular speaker at the event, Mat Staver, with the legal group Liberty Counsel, said last month that the change in policy at the Boy Scouts meant that “you are going to have all kinds of sexual molestation. This is a playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust. This is insane, and we need to literally abandon the Scouts because the Scouts, unfortunately, have abandoned us.”
The Values Voter Summit has long been a hotbed of anti-gay activism, but this year, organizers are going to great lengths to honor people who’ve personally discriminated against LGBT people, such as Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to follow the Supreme Court edict and issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples; a florist who dissed her friend and refused to do flowers for his gay wedding; and a pair of bakers who refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding. The organizers’ exclusion of the Boy Scouts seems only fitting, but perhaps they’ve done them a favor: The boys will be spared from associating with people who will be remembered on the wrong side of history.