Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Boy Scouts of America: LGBT* Discrimination (2015)

by Madeleine Specht

Ethics Controversy
BSA members protesting LGBT* inclusion
Since the 1970s, the BSA has reserved the right to “not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals” (Boy). Being a private organization, this policy was protected under the First Amendment for decades, and a number of parents and members were forcibly expelled or denied membership because of it (Blomquist). June of 2000 marked the legal beginning of the BSA’s battle against inclusivity, when James Dale, a gay troop leader, sued for discrimination. The case was brought before the Supreme Court, but was struck down in a 5-4 decision (Blomquist). “My case might be over, but this issue is not,” said Dale, who was consequently forced to leave the organization (Blomquist). He turned out to be quite right, as the discriminatory practices gained more and more media traction over the next few years.
The ethics of these policies were challenged by the media as well as in court, but the BSA’s status as a private organization shielded it from legal retribution. However, many companies began implementing anti-discrimination policies regarding sexuality, and the BSA lost major corporate sponsors. Their membership numbers also declined over the years, and eventually, the backlash lead the executive staff to make changes. However, their progress was hindered by the BSA’s long-standing ties to various Christian churches who sponsored many of their charters. Anxious to improve their public standing, but wary of offending their religious affiliates, in 2013 the BSA issued a “partial repeal.” The ban was reduced to just LGBT* adults, and a “Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell” policy was implemented for Scouts under age 18 (Scouting). However, this was seen as an offensive compromise, not a step forward, so the backlash continued until the ban was officially repealed in 2015. Technically, the BSA violated no judicial laws, but under different moral philosophies, they arguably broke many ethical codes.

The stakeholders in this case includes all BSA youth members (Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts) who range from ages 6-18. Parents and adults are also stakeholders, for there are a variety of adult positions in the BSA staff for both men and women over the age of 21. In total, there are approximately 2.4 million youth participants and almost one million adults (Annual). The executive staff, aka the National Council, are also stakeholders, as they are in charge of the entire organization. These members include the President: Randall L. Stephenson, the National Commissioner: Charles W. Dahlquist, the Chief Scout Executive: Michael Surbaugh, etc (National). Perhaps most importantly, the LGBT* community provides around 11 million potential stakeholders, as 3.5% of Americans identify as LGB*, and .03% identify as transgender (Greve). Sponsors are also stakeholders, as they have financial assets invested in the organization. Some prominent sponsors include the Intel Foundation, Verizon, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America (Birkey). The BSA’s religious affiliates such as the Christian Church (and all subdivisions) are stakeholders as they have a specific faith-based stake in the anti-LGBT* policy.

UPS ad protesting BSA's anti-LGBT* policy
Individualism is a prominent ethical theory featuring egocentric ideals, including the right to make individual choices, pursue personal interests, and not inhibit these actions for others. Economic individualism was championed by thinkers including Milton Friedman and Tibor Machan. While both men’s ideologies stemmed from a common vein of self-interest and independence, they differ somewhat with goal flexibility. Friedman postulated that the “only goal of business is to profit” and therefore the sole obligation of workers should be to maximize profit for the company’s owner or stockholders (cite Business Ethics and Economics and Individualism). By contrast, Machan suggested that while profit should be the direct goal, there may be indirect goals that need to be prioritized at times. From either perspective, the most important factor is how the stockholders (i.e. corporate sponsors and paying members) financially benefited or suffered because of the ban.
At first, the BSA enjoyed the patronage of many large businesses such as Intel, Emerson, and Verizon. However, once more companies began enacting anti-discrimination policies of their own, some began to pull their funding. In the ensuing years, the BSA lost over twenty major donors including UPS, Merck, IBM, and J.P. Morgan (Noble). A spokesperson from Intel stated that they could no longer support the BSA while they maintained their “long-held policy” of barring LGBT* members, because that contradicted Intel’s anti-discrimination policy (Ferraro). This backlash cost the BSA funding and crippled their public image. It then follows that Friedman and Machan would deem the LGBT* ban unethical, because it caused the BSA to suffer financially.
The BSA faced intense pressure from its religious affiliates, who sponsor more than 70% of Scout charters, to maintain the ban (Leopold). When it was finally removed in 2015, many feared that there would be a “mass exodus” from the BSA’s religious affiliates. However, it was noted that the “vast majority of religious groups stayed with the organization despite the policy shift” and that “less than 2% of [the Church’s] 116,000 units were abandoned by their sponsors” (Israel). In addition, while some churches left, “every single unit that lost a charter partner, within an hour, had a new charter partner” (Israel). Furthermore, after the ban was removed, membership rates increased and for the first time in years (Israel).
From this information, the economic ethics of individualism can be applied. When sponsors began cutting funding, Friedman would likely agree that the policy was unethical because it was no longer maximizing profits for the company. Machan would likely suggest that the secondary goal of anti-discrimination may need to be prioritized in order to restore financial success. Neither philosopher would likely have objected to the BSA’s right to enact the ban in the first place, because it was within the BSA’s rights as a private organization. Their morals are solely focused on profit, so because of the BSA’s financial suffering, they would have rendered the ban unethical, and its reversal an ethical response.  

The primary value of utilitarianism is the “happiness of conscious beings” (Salazar 17). This philosophy postulates an economic or mathematical approach to maximizing happiness, meaning that it favors whatever brings the majority of people the most happiness.
It is difficult to properly gauge exactly how many people were made happy vs. unhappy by the LGBT* ban and its subsequent removal. For instance, it cannot be assumed that all members of associated religious sects objected to LGBT* inclusion. Also, many LGBT* groups were dissatisfied because they still felt the language of the new policy gave “implied permission” to continue discrimination (Summers). However, in general terms, it can be said that by 2015, the ban’s reversal made more Americans happy than unhappy, by simple fact of majority vote. Within each stakeholder group, a clear majority favored the reversal. A year before the repeal, 61% of staff favored reversing the ban (Israel), and the actual vote to repeal was unanimous vote of the BSA executive board (Geider). A year after the repeal, Scout membership was “on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline” showing that the BSA was attracting more Scouts than ever (McCombs). Additionally, the vast majority of religious affiliates remained with the BSA, with “less than 2%” (Israel) defecting. Lastly, sponsors who had cut funding because of the ban began to return after it was lifted, making it more financially prosperous. In summation, the various stakeholders, including the LGBT* community, the BSA staff, the Scouts, and the sponsors who supported reversing the ban outweighed those who did not. Therefore, the majority of people “made happy” by the ban’s reversal outnumbered those who did not, meaning under Utilitarianism, repealing the ban was an ethical move.

Boy Scout uniform demonstrating LGBT* equality
Kant’s philosophy rests on four basic maxims: act rationally, allow and help others to make rational decisions, respect others, and be motivated by Good Will. This theory is primarily focused on how an action is executed, and the motivations behind it. Under Kantianism, the LGBT* ban would likely qualify as an ethical violation.
Firstly, Kant’s maxims stipulate that an act is rational and right if “it demonstrates respect for the autonomy and rationality of all people affected” (Salazar 21). To classify the BSA’s action as rightful, Kant would compare it against the Formula of Humanity, a formulation of the Categorical Imperative which governs rational thought. This formula demands that people be treated as ends not as means, meaning that people should not be treated as resources. Disrespecting people’s individual freedoms violates that principle. Kantianism also states that individual freedom and autonomy must be respected. The freedom of the LGBT* community was not respected by the BSA, who implemented discriminatory policies to prevent them from joining. The historic prejudice against the LGBT* community was exploited in order to appease the religious organizations affiliated with the BSA. Over 70% of the Scout charters are backed by religious organizations, many of whom threatened to pull their money and sponsorship if the ban was lifted (Leopold). By keeping the ban in place, the BSA was able to get what they wanted, i.e. the benefits of sponsorship. However, they did so at the expense of  current and prospective LGBT* members, which disrespected their autonomy and infringed upon their freedom. By definition, Kantianism cannot condone any form of discrimination because infringing on personal freedom violates its ethical dictums.
Furthermore, another stipulation of Kantian rationality is to act consistently in all values and behaviors. By keeping a group of people from joining their organization, they are not adhering to a policy they would wish inflicted upon themselves. Also, their discriminatory actions were repeatedly inconsistent with their justifications, for although religious beliefs were a dominant driver in their policies, the BSA also cited numerous and largely baseless reasons for barring the LGBT* community. For instance, parents feared that exposure to gay parents/children would “turn” other children gay, although sexuality is genetic rather than contagious (Tayag). Another common justification was that the presence of gay parents “would open the door for sexual predators” (Blue), even though the BSA had been trying to cover up countless allegations of sexual abuse since 1965, long before the LGBT* ban was contested (Kearney). This also does not explain why lesbians, who are not likely to molest young boys, were similarly ousted. For instance, Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian den leader, was told that because she was gay she “did not meet the high standards of membership” and was removed from her position (McDonald).
Another pillar of Kantianism is to allow others to make rational decisions. When the ban was overturned for both staff and Scouts in 2015, all BSA charters were allowed to elect their own leaders, including LGBT* members (Summers). In this way, the BSA members could make rational, autonomous decisions when electing their new members. Before they could not because some members were unfairly disqualified from consideration. In addition, it gives both the religious and secular charters agency over their own affairs.
The final axiom of Kantianism is that all actions must be motivated by Good Will in order to be morally credible. Under Kantianism, Good Will is only possible through making a decision simply because it it the right thing to do. The decision to overturn the LGBT* ban had a variety of factors decided by numerous people because the motivation was diffused throughout an entire organization. Thousands of different people were involved, all of whom had their own reasons for wanting the ban repealed or kept. Therefore the motivation had a spectrum of morality: some people were mainly focused on losing financial corporate sponsors, some were worried about fixing the BSA’s suffering public image, some were genuinely motivated by promoting social equality. These are not necessarily bad motives, but they are not all just for the sake of moral duty. Because not all of the reasons were selfless, the decision to repeal the LGBT* ban can be classified as morally neutral (Salazar 22).  

Virtue Theory
First openly gay Eagle Scout, Lucien Tessier (right) and brother
Originated by Aristotle, Virtue Theory is a philosophy centered around the characteristics that make up a person. This theory focuses on four main characteristics, or virtues: courage, honesty, temperance, and justice (Salazar 23). Aristotle postulates that these characteristics would people to flourish, while negative traits, or vices, would not (Salazar 23). Under Virtue Theory, an action was only deemed ethical if the people committing the action possessed these four traits.
According to Aristotle, being courageous meant being willing to to take risks in the pursuit of greater goods, similar to Kantian Good Will. Under this doctrine, repealing the LGBT* ban was a courageous action because the BSA jeopardized a century-old relationship with its religious affiliates in order to pursue social equality. Continuing to uphold the ban would have been judged an act of cowardice, because it demonstrates fear of changing social climes and succumbing to peer pressure of its religious affiliates.
Aristotle also preaches that honesty is an important character trait, because it ensures that people are not manipulated or deceived. By overturning the ban, the BSA also removed its previous “Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell” type policy established in 2013 (Summers). Under this policy, gay Scouts under age 18 were allowed membership, but once they reached adulthood were “no longer welcome” in the organization (Summers). LGBT* Scouts were therefore forced to conceal their sexuality in order to even participate in the organization. This fate befell Scouts such as Lucien Tessier, who was forced to keep his sexuality “under the radar” in order to become an Eagle Scout (James). Those who did not hide, such as Lucien’s younger brother Pascal, were asked to leave the organization after they turned 18 (James). Ryan Andreson, who spent years working to earn the required badges was told that he would not be considered for Eagle Scout candidacy because of his sexuality (James). The ban forced many LGBT* Scouts to conceal their sexuality, and a policy that encourages deception is not an ethical policy. Therefore, under Virtue Theory the LGBT* ban would be condemned. Lifting the ban allowed all Scouts to be open about who they were without fear of repercussion--which would engender an inherently more honest environment for everyone.
Virtue Theory also requires temperance, which includes only “reasonable expectations and desires” (5. Business Ethics and Virtue). Aristotle would likely argue that the terms of the ban were unreasonable for Scouts and staff to follow because it required them to lie. A policy that is inherently coercive and deceptive is not ethical under Virtue Theory.
Lastly, Virtue Theory requires justice, which involves hard work and fair practices. Under the BSA codes, Scouts are required to be dedicated and productive, so they are certainly hard-working. However, not all Scouts were being treated fairly under the codes. Because of the ban, Scouts like Ryan Andreson completed the same requirements, but were denied the same rewards just because of his sexuality (James). Therefore, the ban cannot be classified as just.
No matter the given justification, these policies are inherently discriminatory. Under the ban, LGBT* Scouts were unable to reach their full potential and flourish. They could not rise through the Scout ranks, become troop leaders, or be honest about who they were. Furthermore, the ban inhibited the BSA itself from flourishing because it cost them financial backers and discouraged members from joining. Therefore, Virtue Theory would condemn the policy as unethical. By being brave and casting off old prejudices, the BSA removed unrealistic and unjust expectations from its codes. This allowed its members to be more honest, productive, and equal under its laws. Therefore, the repeal would be hailed as an ethical move under Virtue Theory.

Justified Ethics Evaluation
Joe Maldonado, first openly transgender Scout
In my opinion, the implementation of the LGBT* ban was an inherently cruel and overtly homophobic policy that should never have been enacted. The BSA chose to propagate bigotry and kowtow to its religious sponsors instead of protecting its members. The cocktail of pseudoscience, misinformation, fear, religion, and conservatism prevented countless LGBT* Scouts from feeling accepted and safe in their organization. The reasons given for ostracizing an entire group of people ranged from flimsy to hypocritical. Only when the scandal was repeatedly publicized and corporate sponsors began to withdraw funding did the BSA begin to compromise. The partial-repeal of 2013 was little better: Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell for Scouts but zero tolerance for adults. This was not a victory, it was an insult. It implied to LGBT* Scouts that they were only welcome if they hid their identities and would be expelled once they reached adulthood.
To me, the BSA’s motivations seemed more political than moral. However, my opinion is that changing the policies was the most important thing to do regardless of motive, so I view the repeals as ethical steps in the right direction. The BSA has a foundation of conservatism that will not yield overnight, but every drop of ethical change will eventually help it to erode.

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