CHICAGO -- To all the gay men and women out there deeply offended by the Boy Scouts of America's unfortunate decision to keep out openly gay boys and gay or lesbian adults who want to serve as leaders: Just you wait.
Like many others, I was saddened to hear that unlike the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H Clubs and the country's armed forces, the Boy Scouts will continue their exclusion of a growing and accepted segment of our American community.
It's obvious that the decision to treat gays as unfit for membership in an organization that seeks to instill loyalty, friendliness and bravery in their young charges is far from, in the words of the Scout oath, "morally straight."
But it's their rope, and it's up to the Boy Scouts to decide whether to use it as a lifeline or a noose.
The Scouts have a legal right to select whom to employ or serve -- in 2000, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of the Boy Scouts, a private organization, to decide what values it wants to espouse -- but this doesn't mean the organization is making the best long-term decision.
The fact is that the days in which people hide their sexual orientation for fear of persecution or exclusion are coming to a close. Not as rapidly as they should, but the out-and-proud contingent of American society has made gains in the last few years that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
In the years that I've been writing about the gay community, I've gone from fielding study after study showing how it has been bullied, marginalized, neglected and discriminated against, to watching it blossom into a powerful social and political force with allies who are unafraid to express their support.
A selection of previously thought impossible headlines from my email inbox: "Latino Republicans More Approving of Gay Marriage than Rest of GOP," "Conservative Republicans Support Marriage for Committed Gay and Lesbian Couples," and "Poll Shows Many Religious Groups Support Gay Marriage."
Just this past May, Robert Spitzer, the so-called "father of modern psychiatry," apologized to the gay community for having previously backed a study that suggested gays could be cured of their sexual preference.
Thanks to popular culture, sociological research and the bravery of those who chose to live in the spotlight to prove that homosexuality is just as normal and varied as heterosexual life, gayness has for the most part been demystified, de-scandalized and de-pathologized.
We're really talking about an explosion of people who want to take their place in the mainstream of American life by forming households, getting married, committing to a lifetime of community service and, in more and more cases, bringing up children in loving, stable families.
For the Boy Scouts, excluding this growing base of potential members and leaders -- and their many supporters -- even as it spends more resources attracting ever fewer people might not work so well in the long run. According to the Boy Scouts of America's 2011 annual report, it is currently serving 2.7 million youth members -- about half the peak of 4,852,827 youths in 1973.
Those numbers alone tell me that the Scouts will soon have to reconsider their future. And though this process isn't going nearly fast enough for scores of young men who are in no less need of character-building and leadership training because they happened to be born with a different sexual orientation, it progresses every day as the world changes before the eyes of all our long-standing organizations.
So as painful as it is for any group to be publicly shamed by being rejected from one of America's oldest and most respected social service groups, the gay community can still take heart -- it's just a matter of time.
While public pressure has the potential to claim the victory that legal pressure was unable to win, no one wants to put their young boys into the uncomfortable position of having to break a bitterly fought barrier. The metamorphosis from unwelcoming straight-boys club to inclusive incubator of upstanding citizens with varying sexual identities must come from within -- a maturation that even some of the Boy Scouts' top executive board members already desire.
It's hard to imagine that transformation not eventually coming about. The alternative is a slow fade into irrelevance as a result of, ironically, refusing to heed the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared" in our rapidly evolving world.
Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.