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Eagle Scout demonstrates leadership by pushing to admit gay members

Here is a profile in courage from Western New York. Matthew Wilcott, a 29-year-old Eagle Scout who remains active in Scouting here, is leading a local effort to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to open its ranks to gay members.

Boy Scouts has historically resisted efforts to allow gays into the organization, even winning a ruling by the Supreme Court that affirmed its right to exclude them. That changed suddenly last year when the Scouts began to pay a price for its prejudice, with some influential donors withholding their support.

But when the Scouts announced the organization might drop the policy, anti-gay forces began acting up and the Scouts pulled back. The new plan is for the 1,400 to 2,000 voting members of the Boy Scouts National Council to vote on the matter at its annual meeting May 23 in Dallas.

Wilcott, a teacher in Eggertsville, is determined to influence that vote. “Sexual orientation shouldn’t have any bearing,” he told The News. “I have some friends who were Boy Scouts and were gay. It didn’t change my viewpoint on them in whether I wanted to work with them or go on a campout. Some told me they were gay, and some I didn’t know about until a couple years later.”

Wilcott’s approach is representative of the changing views of Americans on the issue of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. The turnaround has been unexpectedly quick, driven in large part by young Americans for whom homosexuality simply isn’t an issue. No doubt, that sudden change has also disoriented those who still see homosexuality as a moral failing. They may not know it yet, but their day is ending.

That’s why the Scouts’ choices aren’t really to accept gays or reject them. Rather, they are to open the doors to gays now or open them later. At least, those are the choices if the organization intends to survive as a viable and valuable American institution. There is a third option: to simply wither away.

In the short run, any action is liable to cause problems for the Scouts. One side or the other may abandon the organization if it votes to accept gays or if it continues to stigmatize them and, in doing so, deny them the opportunity Scouting provides for development of skill and character – the kind it has helped instill in Matthew Wilcott.

But while either choice may be painful, in a larger sense it should also be easy. When confronted with difficult alternatives, any question can be decided based on doing what is right. In this case, doing what is right means dropping a discriminatory policy that serves no purpose but to perpetuate a hurtful and punishing bias.