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A gay pride Boy Scout troop. That’s thinking. Take a troop of Boy Scouts – a symbol of recalcitrant tradition struggling in the new century to find a future – and attach it to an institution committed already to an unrealized future. Better still, find a place for the scheme where tradition is so entrenched, so fiercely intractable, that the only reality it knows is itself. It’s an idea of such audacious, convincing vision, it couldn’t fail, of course, to fail, but to light up our hypocrisy in its fall.
Peter Brownstein fell into this fool’s errand. With zero experience with scouting, he agreed a couple years ago to be the scoutmaster for the troop his son had joined, which was sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Utah.
A gay pride center is confrontational enough. A pride center scout troop in a conservative fortress like Utah is rather like a McDonald’s opening in Pyongyang (or, perhaps, Twitter in Cuba). But where it would be hard to make the argument that North Korea – as needy as it is – needs the deep-fried icon of western capitalism, Utah does need radical diversity. In Utah, as this native Utahn sees it, difference is sinister – suppressed as much as is possible in a putatively free society, as is evident in the disturbing fact that a measly four percent of scouting groups in the greater Salt Lake City area are not run as extensions of the LDS church.
Not one to accept responsibility casually, Brownstein committed himself to scouting, and found the executives of the Great Salt Lake Council – the biggest and most powerful Boy Scouts of America council in the known universe, incidentally – looking for ways in late 2012 to expand and diversify their membership.
Well, that’s easy, Brownstein thought. Just remove the barriers to entry that scouting policy has put up.
This is where things get weird. When Brownstein voiced his opposition to the Boy Scouts of America’s organizational exclusion of, for instance, gay scouts, he met with the expected resistance on the part of the Mormon Boy Scouts of America leaders, but also found himself struggling with the United Jewish Federation of Utah. Citing an “excellent” relationship with the LDS Church – at which he was “not willing to point fingers” – the Federation’s executive director insisted that Brownstein sign a statement divorcing his advocacy of non-traditional Boy Scouts of America membership from the Federation.