My scouting dilemma

Rarely does a national issue come along that moves me to change my behavior, but today I’m seriously contemplating it.

The Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed their ban on gay members following a two-year review of the matter.

(pause for thought)

I don’t know what to do. I love scouting. I was a Girl Scout, and have spent the last two years deeply involved in my son’s Cub Scout pack here in Bakersfield. But this exclusion of an entire group of people because of their sexual orientation is a problem for me. It’s crossed my moral and ethical 38th parallel.

I don’t lie, cheat, or steal because those things are wrong. Not because I don’t want to suffer the consequences if I get caught, but because I wouldn’t like who I see in the mirror if I did. And I don’t exclude people from my circle of friends based on their gender, religion, race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. It’s just not right.

Now an organization that I belong to, believe in, and otherwise support has said they won’t allow members who are gay.

This latest bigotry aside, scouting is so wonderful for kids and families. Cub Scouting — which is what I’ve been involved in with my 8-year-old — focuses on family. All meetings, campouts and activities are for families. Scouts have to have family discussions and complete projects with a family member to complete their Achievements.

Beginning in the sixth grade, Boy Scouts stresses a bit more independence, but is still focused on Scouts completing projects with the help of or in consultation with a family member.

Scouting offers my son a chance to learn skills he wouldn’t be exposed to by his dad or I. In two years of scouting he’s had the chance to make camp, cook a meal outdoors, build with tools, learn about specific trees and how we each impact the environment, and so much more.

In an effort to earn belt loops, he’s taken it upon himself to learn about sports, games, and subjects he would otherwise not have an interest in.

I believe in scouting so much, that I stepped in to lead my son’s den for the past two years when there was no other leader. I stepped down at the end of last year for personal reasons not associated with this decision.

We tell the Scouts that they can make a difference, that they can change their lives, their community, and their world. We collected Christmas gifts for children of needy families, we volunteered to pick up trash in our community, and most took an active role in recycling within their homes.

We teach and stress “Leave no trace” — that it’s our duty to leave nature, and the world, in a better state than when we found it.

Scouting is about camping and hiking, but it is also about giving kids the skills they need to succeed in life, and building within themselves the passion to always “do your best”.

Scouting stresses that not only are skills important, but that people are important. I can recall Achievements in which we discussed the harm in gossiping, how and why to help the elderly, why friendships are important, how to treat a new student in school, how to listen and be respectful, and why the disabled aren’t different … just to name a few.

Now the Boy Scouts of America has said that homosexuals aren’t good enough to be in their organization.

Excluding youth who identify themselves as gay is hard to reconcile with the scout oath to “help other people at all times.”

I want my son to be a Scout. I want him to learn things I can’t teach him, I want him to have the experiences I had as a Scout. But I also want him to be accepting of everyone regardless of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation.

Here’s where things get murky in my heart and mind: Is this really even an issue at the Cub Scout level? Should I let him continue with scouting given that sexual orientation isn’t even on their radar yet?

Our local Pack leaders have never brought this up, and I’d be shocked if I ever heard it discussed. But as he gets older, will he think it’s OK to exclude people who are gay?

I’m not sure I can bring myself to support or participate in an organization that would deny membership to so many of my friends.

The BSA marketing campaign is “Prepared. For life.”

But shunning an entire segment of the population isn’t preparing them for life. Homosexuality isn’t going away. There will always be gay and lesbian people in this world. They will be our friends and our neighbors, our classmates, teachers, coaches, co-workers and employers. They are people. They are real. And they aren’t going away.

Seems to me that if the Boy Scouts really wanted to prepare members for life, they would preach inclusion and accepting each other’s differences. Wait, scratch that … not just accepting our differences, but embracing them as what make us unique individuals.

Write that into your policy.

Speaking of policy, the current policy reads: “While the B.S.A. does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the B.S.A.”

A distraction? What’s the bigger distraction here?

I’m so saddened by this because, for the first time, I feel like I can’t allow my son to be a part of an organization that allows the manifestation of these ideals.

It’s time for supporters of the real mission of the Scouts — to teach kids about cooperation, teamwork, self-sufficiency and inclusion — to claim our group back.

The national leadership may not miss our dues money, or the money earned from my sons’ popcorn sales, but it’s a few dollars that WON’T go toward supporting discrimination. And for that, I feel like I can keep my head held high.

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3 thoughts on “My scouting dilemma

  1. I will start this off by saying that I don’t agree with the decision the BSA have made.

    I was in Scouting in my youth. Loved it. Summers at Camp Goshen in Virginia, rallies, leadership training, camping, fund raisers. EVERYTHING about Scouting was fun and many of the things I carry with me today came from the Boy Scouts. I don’t agree with their decision.

    However, I think I may understand it. To be clear… I just want to play “devil’s advocate” here. I’m not trying to second guess anyone or start a fight.

    These are kids we are talking about, not adults. Scouting comes with supervision… what they eat, where they go, what they wear, how they complete tasks. The scoutmaster makes decisions on a troop level about what the scouts do for the good of the scout and the good of the troop as a whole. So… if your son, say at the age of 14, came back from a weekend camping trip and said, “It was great, mom! I got to share a tent with Becky all weekend!” Who’s Becky? The 14 year old sister of one of the scouts that was along for the trip.

    Think about this for one moment before you answer or react.

    Now… do you say that’s fine, or would you want to talk to the scoutmaster about why he put your son, with budding hormones, in such a position without your consent?

    While you are thinking about that, ask yourself if you are ok with your son sleeping in the same tent alone with another boy who is not of the same sexual orientation all weekend long.

    Maybe you trust your son completely and know he will make the correct decisions always, but that really isn’t the issue. Because you are going to have some parents that WILL have issues with that and I couldn’t argue with them.

    The reason we don’t mix the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scout together on camping trips and outtings like that is because it’s just trouble waiting to happen. We’ve seen it happen in our military with grown adults. We are really going to force kids into that same mix and expect a better result?

    Or, to put it more bluntly… young men in their early teens that are sexually attracted to each other, out on loosely supervied camping trips away from their parents. And the BSA should somehow be fully responsible for that? Isn’t it bad enough just trying to take care of the young men, teach them what Scouting is, with all the fun involved?

    I don’t know what the right answer is, Jamie. I don’t think (or I would like to NOT think) that the BSA did this out of a simple moral superiority. There was a bigger can of worms they were looking at opening. And a hard decision was made. A decision that took two years from an organization that, up till now, had your respect and trust. Maybe, instead of that knee-jerk reaction that so many in this country love to do anymore, we can give them the benefit of the doubt and respect the decision… no matter what we might think or judge.

    But, of course, I could be wrong. :)

    Michael Hopper

  2. Jamie,

    please don’t give up on Scouting. And don’t let this issue dominate your thinking about what Scouting is, what it delivers and what it will shape, in your boy.

    As someone you know who is very familiar with the BSA program, goals, ideals and methods, let me assure you that this policy is their carefully considered, honest assessment of what best serves the Scouts and will preserve Scouting as a safe, fun, rewarding activity. They don’t take it lightly, they don’t do it out of meanness or arbitrarily.

    Really, the whole question of sexuality never comes up in Scouting. Adult leaders don’t talk birds-and-bees with the boys, except for ACTUAL birds and bees. The boys are not taught anything about “hating” gays or or treating them differently in their day-to-day lives. If you hear of a Troop where that’s not the case, report it. The Scouts want no bigots.

    Quite to the contrary, though, the program encourages Scouts to be respectful and tolerant of people from all backgrounds. But this issue comes up for people, much as it does in churches that are struggling to be welcoming of gay and lesbian people, even where their reading of Scripture calls homosexual conduct wrong, sinful and against God’s plan for people.

    Were the Scouts to change this policy, it might very well be the end of Scouting. I don’t say that as an alarmist. I say it as one who has talked to parents of younger scouts who specifically chose Scouting because its standards of conduct and youth protection made them feel secure in entrusting their young boys to the care of adult strangers on campouts. Adult leaders are screened and our backgrounds checked. We must every two years take the Youth Protection Training course, designed to remind us to recognize the signs of possible abuse, solemnify our own commitment to treating the Scouts respectfully and policing ourselves. “Two-deep leadership” is a very serious rule with ASMs. No boy goes alone with a single adult at any time in Scouting.

    The Scouts also discourage membership by avowed, open atheists, as you may know. “A Scout is reverent,” and while this can include any faith, it does require SOME faith as a way of reinforcing the respect that Scouting wants to imbue in boys to treat nature as God’s creation, of which we are to be good stewards. Their motivations in both these cases are to ensure the best environment possible for the boys.

    Scouts like all youngsters will be exposed to gay people in other areas of life, and it is the job of their parents to handle the questions that come up around that. Were this not the case, many scout parents would have objections to the program, and their sons would miss out on the incredible opportunities for fun, adventure, growth and leadership that it’s so well regarded for.

    I support the policy. I struggled with the issue of allowing gays to serve openly in the military and still do. However, there at least you’re dealing with adults, not impressionable kids trying to fit in while they grow and mature. Scouting includes boys from 11 to 18, even older in Ventures. Any policy the Scouts have must be biased towards the needs of the youngest Scouts, since they are more numerous, more fragile, more apt to leave Scouting for other activities and simply less able to cope with the issues that might come up should the troop have an openly gay man as an adult leader — or even a Scout in the troop that believes and behaves as gay. You may find this harsh, or prejudicial, and while I agree with you that it is, I believe more strongly that it is the right course.

    The very fact that I am writing this anonymously bothers me, although you probably know already who I am. I believe society is getting to the point where advocating restrictions on gay people in any way is seen as ignorant, “hateful” and old-fashioned. I am not ignorant. I am not hateful. I don’t treat my gay friends differently. I get that they are for the most part like anyone else. Yet, I am afraid of losing some of those friends or being thought poorly of by people who don’t know me well enough. I’m not sharing this on Facebook, because I know it would set off a torrent of foul-mouthed, abusive, unfair accusations against me. I don’t need the aggravation and have no wish to respond to that kind of shrill abuse.

    There is far too much hair-trigger condemnation in the world and as I get older and see my two sons in Scouting, I know that there are lessons that are better left to me to teach them than for the Scouts to teach them. The policy offends those whose views on this societal issue are more liberal. But it’s a far more prudent course for the Scouts to remain conservative on the issue and for parents to feel confident that the Scouts will not seek to indoctrinate their boys against your wishes or expose them to a situation that can lead to lasting problems for a young boy.

    I wish Penn State had had these kinds of standards for its football coaches.

  3. Would you let your son be in the Boy Scouts if they didn’t allow African Americans?
    Would you let your son be in the Boy Scouts if they didn’t allow Jews?
    Why is this any different?

    The idea that what if your son slept in a tent with another girl and then further if he slept in a tent with a gay boy is bigotry at its finest. The assumption that your son or the other person would immediately have sex with each other because of the close proximity is insulting. We’re talking about people!!! Any prejudice against another person is nothing but hate.

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