THE BOY SCOUTS of America are now, arguably, America's largest anti-gay youth organization. Their long-secret "perversion files"—finally released last week after years of court battles—reveal how the organization has long conflated homosexuality with sexual deviance.
I first saw the Scouts' perversion files two years ago, when their 20,000 pages, stacked in cardboard boxes, were crammed into the small office of Portland lawyer Kelly Clark.
The files detail 1,247 men the Boy Scouts blacklisted from 1965 to 1985 for moral issues, and they were crucial in Clark's landmark 2010 court case that successfully argued the organization was responsible for covering up sexual abuse of Oregon Boy Scouts. Despite that, the files were still secret. The Boy Scouts of America fought tooth-and-nail to keep them out of the public's hands. They lost.
I finally read the files while squeezed into a Seattle-to-Portland bus seat last weekend, the printouts of vintage scrawl—describing sex crimes of 25 Oregon men—spilling out onto the neighboring seat under the dim bus lights.
Media nationwide have detailed how the files show the Boy Scouts' devastating moral limbo: The Scouts considered allegations against these men scary enough that they maintained an elaborate database to keep them away from leading Boy Scouts anywhere in the country, but not criminal enough that they should be reported to the police.
When a high-school-aged Scout told troop leaders that the chaplain of the Oregon Coast's Camp Meriwether had repeatedly "made advances" to him, the national Scouts sent the chaplain a letter saying they regretfully had to ban him, but specifically noted that there would be no legal implications. In another case, two boys reported that troop leader Clyde Brock had taken naked photos of Boy Scouts and then displayed them around his home. The national organization reluctantly kicked him out, but wrote that there was "no reason" why he shouldn't still be recognized at an upcoming anniversary celebration.
"It would help to allay questions about his retirement from the troop," wrote Scout Executive Guy Miller in the 1968 letter.
In addition to this horrific nonchalance, the language of the files reveals the homophobic lens of the Boy Scouts' leadership. Throughout the Oregon cases, pedophilia and homosexuality are treated as equally terrible.
Scout volunteer Gregory Benson was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy. But the official reason for blacklisting him stated on his 1979 file is "police records allege homosexuality." In 1971, when William Cronenwett was entered into the files for allegedly assaulting a nine-year-old, the write-up also made sure to note that he "has had homosexual tendencies most of his life."
Conflating gayness with sexual abuse was a mainstream standard for the time—homosexuality wasn't removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of official mental disorders until 1973. But the Boy Scouts haven't advanced past that retro thinking.
In the past 20 years, the Scouts have made great strides toward reversing their obviously reprehensible approach toward child abuse in their midst: The Boy Scouts now require "youth protection" training for all their volunteers, prohibit adults from being alone with Scouts and mandate that all adults report suspected abuse to the police.
But in July of this year, the Scouts shocked the country by reaffirming their ban on LGBT volunteers. After a two-year examination of the organization's values and mission, the group's leaders reiterated a bigoted policy that says gay people are amoral and bad role models. The justification for the policy is that the Boy Scouts' parents would prefer to "address issues of same-sex orientation within their family."
While the Boy Scouts of America have seen the error of past mistakes, they're still stubbornly covering for new ones.
Search through the perversion file's public database here.