The Boy Scouts of America are once again coming under fire from a national gay rights group, this time via a protest of the National Geographic Channel. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation announced Wednesday that it is supporting an online petition asking the cable network to add a disclaimer to the start of each episode of the upcoming reality series “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?”
The petition — started by Will Oliver, a 20-year-old gay Eagle Scout from Duxbury, Mass. — asks that the network “inform viewers about the organization’s dangerous anti-gay policy” and “speak out now to protect gay youth and leaders.”
The Boy Scouts have a longstanding policy of barring openly gay scouts and gay or lesbian adults from serving as scout leaders.
Asked for its response to the protest by The Washington Times, the organization did not directly address the petition.
“The BSA values the freedom of everyone to express their opinion,” said Boy Scouts of America public relations director Deron Smith. “The focus of 'Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?' is to inspire youth to abandon sedentary lifestyles, live healthier, and enjoy the great outdoors.”
Slated to debut this spring and produced by Thomas Beers — the man responsible for “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” — “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?” pits teams of adults against actual scouts in skill and survival challenges drawn from “The Boy Scout Handbook.”
GLAAD’s announcement supporting Mr. Oliver’s petition criticized the show as a “marketing ploy” designed to “distract Americans from the Scouts’ long history of discrimination.”
“That National Geographic would brush aside countless gay teens suffering at the hands of the BSA, shrugging off injustice as just another ‘point of view,’ is irresponsible,” said GLAAD president Herndon Graddick. “By airing this program, National Geographic is providing support and publicity to an organization that harms young people simply because of who they are. If the network is truly committed to standing by its non-discrimination practices, it should have no problem airing a disclaimer to that effect.”
Responding to GLAAD, National Geographic said in a statement that it was an “equal opportunity employer” and does “not discriminate in any capacity.”
“As it relates to our upcoming show with the Boy Scouts, we certainly appreciate all points of view on the topic,” the network said. “But when people see our show they will realize it has nothing to do with this debate, and is in fact a competition series between individual scouts and civilians.”
The Boy Scouts’ “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been a matter of internal debate, with some scout troops defying the rules and Boy Scouts national board member James Turley — also the CEO of accounting firm Ernst & Young — issuing a statement supporting an end to the ban.
Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their policy after conducting a two-year internal review, with chief Scout executive Bob Mazzuca stating in a news release that “while a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”
Thirteen years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to expel a gay assistant scoutmaster in a 5-4 decision, stating that private organizations have a right to decide what values they wish to inculcate.
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Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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