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Tom West: Boy Scout-United Way dispute needs more facts, less emotion

So, who's right: The United Way or the Boy Scouts? That's a question many Duluthians are being asked these days, and which many are answering with knee-jerk divisiveness.

So, who's right: The United Way or the Boy Scouts? That's a question many Duluthians are being asked these days, and which many are answering with knee-jerk divisiveness.
In the wake of the United Way of Greater Duluth's decision to cut off funding to the Boy Scouts because they don't allow homosexuals to participate in their organization, I'm foolish enough to believe that perhaps an opportunity exists to think a little more deeply on this issue and come to a better understanding of the "other side's" point of view regardless of which "side" one is on.
The fact that we are taking sides in the first place suggests that this issue is somewhat flawed. After all, when the two positions are boiled down, one side stands in favor of human rights, and the other side stands in favor of child protection. Except for those few Neanderthals among us, I don't know many people who are opposed to either of those concepts.
Yes, there are people among us who want to kill gays for sport, and there are some men who want to satisfy their sexual urges with adolescent males. Almost all of the people I know think that those convicted of either crime ought to be removed from society for most if not all of their lives.
So why are we at such loggerheads? Because of the nature of the sex act itself. Most of us agree that sex should at least be confined to a union between two consenting adults. But the reasons and the attitudes two people bring to a sexual relationship border on infinite, and even between two people may change from one time to the next. Simply put, we shouldn't then put people in broad general categories like gay or straight.
Both sides in this issue, it seems to me, are attempting to hide this sexual undercurrent with legalese. The Boy Scouts won their argument at the U.S. Supreme Court not by saying they are afraid of being sued by families of boys who might be molested by a homosexual male. Instead, they won, on a 5-4 vote, by saying they are a private organization that should be allowed to govern itself by its own rules.
In the same way, the United Way said it was compelled to act because of an unwritten but inferred stipulation in its contract that says the Scouts must abide by the state Human Rights Act. With other United Way chapters voting to continue funding the Scouts, that conclusion makes one wonder if the state Department of Human Rights is going to prosecute every person and organization in the state that makes a donation to the Boy Scouts. (That would be a good question for Gov. Jesse Ventura and Attorney General Mike Hatch.)
By ducking behind the lawyers, both sides are making it more difficult to come to grips with this issue -- which is about sex and nothing else -- sexual orientation, development and coercion.
The Boy Scouts appear to be frightened by gays because they believe an openly gay person is more likely to sexually molest their charges. By definition it must be true that a homosexual male is more likely to sexually molest Boy Scouts than a heterosexual male. But what are the chances of that? I don't know. And what about bisexuals? I don't know the frequency of that either. Maybe somebody else knows how many Scout leaders are prosecuted each year in this nation for sexually assaulting a Scout. If you do, please share the information with the community.
However, I have seen studies that note that most adults are not pedophiles, and that of those who are, most are heterosexual (i.e. they are mostly adult males who prey on girls.) It should be remembered that not all gays are promiscuous or pedophilic. Nor are only gays promiscuous or pedophilic.
Another question worth answering would be whether homosexuals or heterosexuals are more likely to take advantage of vulnerable adolescents under their direct leadership and control? (Who would be more vulnerable than a child camping in the middle of nowhere for the first time?)
Sometimes, it seems as if a study has been done on everything. If so, then information on homosexual vs. heterosexual pedophilia needs to be shared with the larger community. If not, it would seem like such a study would be a worthy subject for a Ph.D. thesis in sociology.
Until we have more information, we are all wallowing in ignorance. If the Boy Scouts can prove that openly gay leaders are more likely to molest their charges, then the United Way ought to rethink its decision. If it doesn't make any difference whether a leader is straight or gay, then the Scouts ought to rethink their decision because it would make more sense to have a leader who was openly gay than one who only reveals such tendencies in a tent miles from civilization and only with children.
Finally, if we allow ourselves to get bogged down in a discussion of the morality of homosexuality, the United Way-Boy Scout dispute will come to no good end. Most people just want to let adults live and let live, and most people are repulsed by pedophiles. For a long time, I thought it was a tragedy that the Boy Scouts were in court discussing a matter that primarily involved sexuality. From personal experience, both as a Scout and a parent, I believe that the Boy Scouts do a lot of good for many young men -- none of which has anything to do with sexuality.
However, we need to move past that, and address the United Way decision with more facts and less emotion. As it stands, the United Way decision will do long-term damage to both organizations, and to the civic fabric of this community.
Tom West is the executive editor of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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