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Homophobia, American-Style

by HILLARY GIBSON

It’s been one year since Congress officially repealed the archaic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. A new wave of LGBT cadets is entering training academies without the burden of silence — well, almost. While the military has made progress toward freeing men and women in uniform from the closet, members of the armed forces who identify as transgender were left entirely out of the equation.

Take the case of a friend of mine from high school who enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy in 2008. Unbeknownst to all but a few students back then, he’s gay. As DADT’s days seemed numbered, my friend and his few cautiously out classmates petitioned to form a gay-straight alliance student club.

The academy was slow to move forward until the government officially repealed its homophobic policy, and their charter was sent back numerous times for revision. The order? Remove transgender from the widely used LGBT catch-all acronym. The cadets were forced to change that last letter from a T to a Q — for “questioning.” Service members who identify as transgender and want to participate as a distinct sect of the support group essentially have to pretend that they just aren’t sure what to call themselves yet.

While the military is making slow and incomplete progress on LGBT — er, Q — issues, America’s problems with institutionalized homophobia don’t stop — or start — there. Homophobia takes root, like all forms of prejudice, in the impressionable minds of children.

The Boy Scouts of America is one of the last organizations of its kind to systematically exclude homosexuals from participating as members or troop leaders. Because it’s a private organization, excluding gays is technically their prerogative. Unlike the military, they’re not using our tax dollars to fund their discriminatory agenda, so why should we care?

We should care because the Boy Scouts of America instructed 2,723,869 of our nation’s youth in 2011 to make “ethical and moral choices” tainted by homophobic intolerance. This national organization wields influence on a scale comparable to that of many public institutions.

The Boy Scout oath makes kids promise to keep themselves “morally straight,” yet the organization seems more concerned about keeping everyone sexually straight. The Boy Scouts send a dangerous message to youth: It’s not OK to be gay, and if you are you should pretend that you’re not.

Engraving this message in the minds of young scouts perpetuates bullying. According to the National Youth Association, nine out of 10 LGBT students experience bullying at school. One-third of them have attempted suicide.

If we practiced tolerance in our national institutions and organizations, our nation could make headway toward ending homophobic bullying. According to a statement released this summer, the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of its members. Overall, the group asserts, openly gay scouts and leaders “would be a distraction to the mission.”

A distraction from what? Given the recent reports on the Scouts’ longtime practice of engaging in elaborate cover-ups when its leaders allegedly molested young boys, the integrity of their purported “mission” is already compromised.

As the Los Angeles Times revealed, the Boy Scouts quietly nudged men it believed were sexually abusing children to resign for many decades. It would internally probe the charges without, in most cases, reporting these offenses to authorities. As a result, suspected offenders wound up slipping back into the program in other areas.

For my friend’s club, transgender inclusion is the next battle. For young people like me, it’s about awakening the older generations to the irrationality of their prejudice.

By the time I have children, these civil rights abuses will likely be resolved. If they persist, I won’t enroll my child in the Boy Scouts.

Hillary Gibson is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

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