Can Boy Scouts overcome bias?
By Larry Gebhardt
Richard Larsen laments (ISJ Feb 24, 2013) that Boy Scouts are being bullied by individuals and organizations who disagree with Boy Scouts’ biased exclusion of homosexuals.
Larsen suggests that homosexuality is a choice that is ‘avowed.’ It is a biological, scientific reality much as Larsen and I are Caucasian men or left handed. Larsen says homosexuals are less than 3 percent of the population. Gallup polls show many Americans think that one in five, 20 percent, of people they know are homosexual.
Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Bias is an inflexible belief about a particular kinship group. Bigotry is retaining biases despite receiving contrary authoritative information. Think about Ku Klux Klan bias toward blacks. Bias is not good. In organizations the price of bias is litigation and damaged reputation, lost employees or volunteers, diminished sales and lost customers, and wasted time.
The Girl Scouts, United States armed forces, 86 percent of Fortune 500 firms, and a growing number of churches and other organizations, have moved past exclusion or disrespect of homosexuals. They have adapted. We will see if the Boy Scouts or the Klan adapt or remain bigoted.
Why do we contract biases like homophobia? Humans seem to have an immune deficiency that deep down we believe biases benefit us in some ways. One of these alleged benefits is that biases magically give us the ability to anticipate the attitudes, character, and behaviors of people different from ourselves. Some people biased against blacks or Muslims would feel emotional fear when seeing a black stranger or Muslim garb on the sidewalk. If we have anxieties about homosexuals, and don’t know any personally, our bias virus helps us to disrespect what we assume homosexuals do in their private lives or justifies fearing them. Would we have similar feelings about heterosexuals like our neighbors or parents or a different Christian denomination person?
Bias virus spreads. We often learn biases from authority figures and role models in our families, religions and work groups who tell us we’ll benefit from the bias. For many years, the US Navy told me that homosexual people were not fit for service and women not fit for combat. The biased belief told me that military units would be degraded if women or homosexuals were included. Larsen claims Boy Scouts will avoid pederasty not by screening adult leaders but by excluding homosexual boys.
Boys can start in scouting when 6 years old. Scouting teaches many skills and good values. But If boys are socialized by scouting role models stating homosexuals are sub-human and never meet homosexuals, then it is little wonder they enter adult life with homophobic bias. We know there is discrimination and bullying of homosexuals in Pocatello to the point of after-dark assaults. Was homosexual bias learned in scouting? Media spreads bias virus because of its passion for exaggerating reality with inflated dangers and disrespect. Think of the Larry Craig airport restroom drama. Biased Pocatellans are distributing hateful letters with titles like ‘unmasking the gay agenda’ and ‘say no to the bathroom bill.’
Individuals and organizations can beat the bias virus. A first step is to be mindful of our biases by analyzing our thoughts and measuring their emotional content. If I get riled up by a human difference, I may be biased. This bias detection can lead to a strategy to be more indifferent to biases.
My personal awareness of homophobic bias and path away from bias began when I had opportunity to share a family meal with two gay men, and subsequently with two lesbian women. Their normalcy and competence made me question years of career military claims that homosexuals were not fit for military duty. My mind changed, my bias became tolerance. I studied scientifically-based information then advocated Department of Defense policy change accepting homosexual people to full service opportunities.
If Boy Scouts cannot work and socialize with homosexual people in their organization, then how would Boy Scouts hired in business work collegially with homosexual people? We would rather hire unbiased employees.
Changes in USA public policy and law are steadily removing barriers and discrimination to allow inclusion of all people in American life. There is no reason why Boy Scouts cannot go through a similar discernment.
Our community will be better when inclusive of all people. That’s why I’m pushing for a Pocatello anti-discrimination ordinance. Right, Mayor Blad? I was a Boy Scout and leader as were my boys. We tolerated the Boy Scout position but no longer. I will not give a dime to Boy Scouts until they adaptively change and officially drop homosexual bias.
Larry Gebhardt of Pocatello is a retired Navy captain.