The unconscionable discrimination perpetuated by the Boy Scouts of America has a face.

It is Eric Jones, of Kearney, Mo., red-haired and clean-cut, Eagle Scout and role model. Jones, a 19-year-old college student, was instructed to leave his camp counselor’s job last weekend after he told the camp director he was gay.

His dismissal shames the Boy Scouts. Jones was the same reliable young man of good character after he came out to the director as he was when the camp entrusted him with a leadership position. For the Boy Scouts to contend otherwise is hurtful and sad.

It would be nice to use the insult to Jones as a rallying cry to persuade the fabled organization that sexual orientation is simply an essential element of a person’s makeup and not a threat unless one chooses to perceive it as such.

Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts slammed the door on such hopes Tuesday by announcing that a two-year review of its policies had validated the decision to exclude openly gay Scouts and leaders.

Scouts should have the right to “address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” said chief Scout executive Bob Mazzuca.

Perfectly understandable. What Mazzuca doesn’t explain is how the participation of gay Scouts would interfere with that process.

The suggestion is that the Boy Scouts are worried that impressionable young people might drift toward tolerance should they become friendly with a gay Scout at a campout or club meeting.

Some may believe that by banning people who are openly gay, the organization is keeping out sexual predators; but repeated studies have shown how false this assertion is.

Besides, if that were the reason, what would be the point of prohibiting a lesbian from being a den mother, as the Boy Scouts have done?

The more likely reason is a pragmatic one: The Boy Scouts, unlike the Girl Scouts or international Scouting groups, derive considerable support from religious organizations that take a dim view of homosexuality, especially the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches.

Less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is Mormon, but 15 percent of Scouts are.

The Boy Scouts of America could lose hundreds of thousands of Scouts if it opened its doors to atheists and gay people.

Yet as society grows more accepting of homosexuality, and less willing to overlook discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Boy Scouts will feel increased pressure to become a more tolerant organization.

Support from corporations and municipalities might be harder to come by if it doesn’t don’t change its policies.

Young people are leading the way to this growing acceptance.

Gay youths are no longer willing to “hide who I (am) and live this second life,” as Jones explained this week. Their peers don’t expect that of them.

The Boy Scouts do great harm to their organization and legacy by continuing a discriminatory policy.

Combined editorials by the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times

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