The Truth, Mainly - 09/04/2000

What price homophobia?
by Leon Satterfield

Yes, I was a Boy Scout.

No, I wasn't a very good Boy Scout. After my meteoric rise through the ranks from Tenderfoot to Scout Second Class, I burned out.

Not because of any philosophic differences with Scouting principles. I enthusiastically learned the Scout salute, the Scout handshake, the Scout oath. And I was absolutely riveted by the Scout demonstration that inside a tent, out of the wind, certain bodily emissions were spectacularly flammable, albeit risky.

But I was a bad marcher. I had to think a good while to sort out my left appendages from my right, and so I gave up my dream of becoming a Scout First Class and quit like a quitter. But I had no rancor for the Boy Scouts of America.

And when the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Boy Scouts had the legal right to keep gays out of their organization, I agreed. I believe that private organizations have the legal right to keep out anyone they want to keep out, no matter how spectacular the flammability of their bodily emissions.

But—and here's where I part company, I suspect, with many Boy Scouts—I don't believe that such organizations should then expect the citizenry at large to subsidize their prejudices.

That's why, when I fill out my United Way pledge card this fall and I come to the part that asks me which United Way organizations I wish my donation to go to, I will write "All of them except the Boy Scouts."

You may snicker and say that I'm just a tightwad who's always looking for a principled reason to withhold donations. You'd be right.

But a New York Times story last Tuesday suggests that I'm not alone, that the backlash to the Scouts' ban on gays is having what heavy thinkers call an adverse economic impact. According to the Times, here are some of what heavy thinkers call the leading indicators of that impact:

•Officials in Chicago, San Francisco, and San Jose say Scout troops can no longer use "parks, schools and other municipal sites."

•The ACLU has asked a federal court to revoke an agreement whereby the city of San Diego leases 18 acres of city parkland to the Boy Scouts for $1 a year.

•Connecticut "has banned contributions to the Scouts by state employees through a state-run charity" and "is also considering whether to block the Scouts from using public campgrounds or buildings." "Are we aiding and abetting someone who discriminates?" said a spokesman for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. "Clearly, any public entity needs to have clean hands."

•Even private enterprise is getting in on the adverse economic impact. Chase Manhattan Bank and Textron, Inc., among others, "have withdrawn hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to local and national scouting groups." The Scouts' ban on gays, according to a Chase official, is "in conflict with our commitment and our values on diversity."

•And "dozens of United Ways from Massachusetts to San Francisco have cut off money amounting to millions of dollars each year."

Okay, there's probably some overreaction here. But when Chase Manhattan overreacts, and when an organization depending largely on donations begins losing "millions of dollars each year," people notice.

And what it all suggests is that homophobia may no longer be profitable—or politic.

Which somehow reminds me of Kansas.

About a year ago, you remember, the well-meaning Religious Right got enough of itself elected to the Kansas state school board to remove evolution from the list of subjects covered by state science exams.

And thereby provoked all kinds of jokes about the hayseeds in Kansas.

A cartoon in the Arizona Republic was typical. It depicts a tourist family crossing the state line into Kansas. "Boy, this place is flat," says the father. "So is the earth," says the head of a welcoming party labeled "State Board of Education."

A little of that kind of ridicule goes a long way, and last month Kansas voters defeated three of the well-meaning anti-evolutionists on the board, thus insuring a majority of pro-evolutionist members in November.

And here, I think, is my point:

If the well-meaning Religious Right in Nebraska succeeds this fall in passing a constitutional amendment that deprives homosexuals of certain rights the rest of us have, I'm guessing there will be at least two unintended results:

1. There will be what heavy thinkers call an adverse economic impact.

2. More importantly, there will be cartoons in out-of-state newspapers about "the good life." We may even be mentioned by Leno and Letterman.

Yes, I know. The well-meaning Religious Right will see that as a sign that we‘ve made a courageous decision that sets us apart from the wicked world.

The question is whether the rest of us—some of whom may still have a worldly fascination with the flammability of bodily emissions—want to pay the price of their virtue.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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