Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Anti-Gay Policy Sparks Concern Volume 54 Number 1, January/February 2001
by Elizabeth J. Himelfarb

In 1997, the Boy Scouts of America instituted an archaeology merit badge to replace an old, ill-conceived badge in arrowhead collecting. It seemed like a win-win proposition: Scouts would be rewarded for exploring Indiana Jones-inspired fantasies, archaeologists would have a captive audience. But the Supreme Court's ruling last summer that the Scouts can exclude gays worries some archaeologists.

In October, a subscriber to the historical archaeology internet discussion list HISTARCH fired off a spam (the "e"-equivalent of junk mail) to the entire list, lamenting the withdrawal of funding the Scout stance had engendered, adding, "...the Scouts have refused to cave in to the pressure of 'politically correct' groups who despise the fact that the Scouts stand for faith and morality!"

Recipients of the message seized the opportunity to note the effect the ban on gays has had on the archaeological community. "I look forward to working with Scouts on their archaeology merit badges as soon as they drop this stupid exclusionary policy," wrote Tim Scarlett, a University of Nevada, Reno, student.

A flurry of messages followed, some advocating that archaeologists withhold support from the Scouts. Others took a different approach. "As a private organization, it is appropriate that the Boy Scouts should lose the support of tax dollars," wrote Kirsti Uunila of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. "It is not clear, however, that they can be excluded from participation in public archaeology programs.... We offer those services to the public and have among our constituents fundamentalist home-schoolers, all-white church groups, all-black church groups, and so on. We never question their ideologies, governing charters, or membership policies."

Nonetheless, the withdrawal of support that provoked the initial spam may be just beginning. When he completes his degree, Scarlett, who deems it "critical" for archaeologists to work with kids, will likely look beyond the Scouts for opportunities to work with the community. "It's a shame," he told ARCHAEOLOGY, "the boys are the ones who are going to suffer while we are soul searching."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America