As the Boy Scouts prepare to vote on whether to change the organization's ban on openly gay members, news outlets should resist the urge to let anti-gay activists frame the debate around concerns about pedophilia and sexual abuse.
On May 23, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will vote on a proposal that would rescind the organization's ban on openly gay scouts but maintain a ban on gay adults serving in leadership positions.
The "compromise" proposal is clearly meant to assuage right-wing fears that openly gay scout leaders might engage in pedophilia - a fear that was given plenty of airtime in February when the BSA first considered changing its policy:
But the compromise proposal hasn't silenced anti-gay groups like the American Family Association (AFA) and Family Research Council (FRC), which continue to warn that allowing gay people into the BSA would increase the risk of inappropriate sexual behavior and sexual abuse. OnMyHonor.net, one of the groups leading the effort against the compromise proposal, lists sexual abuse as one of its primary concerns about accepting gay scouts (emphasis in original):
Based upon personal and candid conversations with BSA officials at the highest levels, the BSA is fully aware that this proposed resolution will absolutely increase the risk of boy-on-boy sexual contact in Scouting... Enacting this resolution will result in more ugly litigation and will further the public scandal to the BSA, not to mention the tragedy of countless boys who will experience sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
The "gays are pedophiles" talking point, of course, has been widely debunked by child welfare experts and has no basis in reality. Even the BSA acknowledges that the threat of sexual abuse by gay members is a myth, stating:
[T]he BSA makes no connection between the sexual abuse or victimization of a child and homosexuality. The BSA takes strong exception to this assertion. Some of the nation's leading experts reinforce this position.
The BSA has stringent polices that protect the safety and privacy of youth and adult members and has always worked to ensure that it is a supportive and safe environment for young people.
But this consensus from child welfare experts apparently wasn't enough to stop mainstream media outlets from obsessively debating the homosexuality-pedophilia connection in February. On Fox News, for example, discussions of pedophilia tainted more than two-thirds of the network's coverage of the Boy Scouts' ban:
When the BSA votes on its compromise proposal, media outlets should refuse to allow anti-gay activists - many of whom have histories of extreme anti-gay commentary - to hijack their coverage in order to peddle damaging and discredited smears about gay people.