IRVING, TX -- Ignorance and fear can play an amazingly influential role in halting progress, and the nation recently saw that played out once again at the highest level of political influence on a charitable organization.
In the face of mounting conservative public opposition, Boy Scouts of America announced it would delay making a decision on striking down its anti-gay policy targeting scouts and leaders. An affirmative vote, originally scheduled for Feb. 6 by the Irving, Texas-based national group and now delayed until May, would have allowed local troop sponsors to decide on whether to accept gay scouts and leaders.
It's no coincidence that the Boy Scouts announcement followed on the heels of anti-gay Texas Gov. Rick "I'll never step down unless I can be president" Perry saying that he would oppose such a policy change. Perry, a former Eagle Scout who published a book in 2008, "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For," probably can be credited with derailing the vote.
That's a shame because Perry, more than most people, probably knows that anti-gay discrimination often targets people who might not be gay. Perry has fought rumors that he himself is gay ever since he went to Austin as a state legislator representing Haskell County in 1984. In fact, Perry was the subject of "Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry," a book written by former openly-gay Texas Rep. Glen Maxey, which alleged to document the governor's closeted gay life.
What's even more curious about Perry's stance is that when he was a scout in Haskell County he was involved in an incident of an alleged appearance of impropriety. One night on a camping trip when Perry was about 10, he apparently got cold and crawled into a sleeping bag with an older scout to get warm. When the scout leader discovered the pair the next morning he reportedly scolded the older scout for allowing Perry to sleep with him. The older scout said he took the brunt of the scolding because he was told that as the older youth he should have known to wake the scout leader rather than allowing Perry to sleep with him.
Presumably, Perry and the older scout might have been expelled for their behavior under today's scouting policy, and God forbid what might have happened to them had they been involved in some common child experimental sex game.
The sleeping bad incident came to light when a Huffington Post reporter researched rumors about Perry's alleged secret gay life during the governor's unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2012. The reporter dismissed it because it quite rightly meant nothing, except that it possibly scarred the young Perry's mind and instilled a sense of fear in him about the perception of being branded as gay.
Friends of Perry from of his scouting days -- some of whom remain in close contact with him still -- swear that he has has never engaged in off-color jokes about LGBT people or practiced anti-gay discrimination in his political offices. Yet every chance he gets, Perry comes down on the side of the debate with the likes of anti-gay zealot Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, who from his appearance ought to understand something about the threat of being wrongly perceived as gay.
Effeminate straight men often become the targets of anti-gay hate crimes, according to organizations that track hate crime violence.
According to the organization's website, the Boy Scout's mission is to do duty to God and country, obey Scout Law, help others at all times, stay physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. Scouts are encouraged to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Obviously, none of that mentions sexual orientation, unless someone wants to try and argue that "morally straight" means not gay, which hopefully no one would be dumb enough to attempt such a debate. Instead, discrimination of any kind would appear to be violating Scout Law.
It doesn't help the cause for eliminating anti-gay discrimination in the organization that everyone realizes the Boy Scouts are likely only considering a policy change because of the fear of loss of corporate funding, which increasingly requires commitments to equality for all people.
Rather than listening to a governor whose motives are more likely based on politics and personal gain rather than fairness, it would better serve Boy Scouts leaders to listen to the words of someone like President Barack Obama. The president noted that all young people should have the opportunity to learn and prosper as part of the scouting tradition.
It's hard to imagine anything more deplorable than the thought of scout leaders and the scouts they mentor targeting and excluding a youth from a troop because they view them as unacceptable for presumed homosexuality or whatever reason. The earlier children are taught to live and let live the better it will serve them in later life, and it's never to late for someone to learn that lesson either.