The Boy Scouts Dilemma: When You Love the Local Troop but Hate the BSA's Campaign Against Gays & Its Religious Discrimination

5 years ago

My son is at the age when many of his friends are joining the Cub Scouts. The local scout leader is a friend of ours, a terrific person, and a great dad. Many of the skills the Boy Scouts teach--using a compass, building fires, camping--are good, old-fashioned skills that we'd love our son to learn. But when you join the Cub Scouts, you are joining Boy Scouts of America, and supporting BSA with your dues. And therein lies the problem.

Unless you were hiding underground for the past couple of years, you know that BSA is vocally anti-gay. Not only has the organization ousted beloved lesbian and gay Scout leaders, despite letters of support for the leaders from thousands of parents and kids. The BSA has even gone so far as to say it will not allow gay kids to be members. This is a stance that goes far beyond being out of touch; it is openly cruel.

In recent years, there has been a bold effort on behalf of individuals and organizations all over the country to put an end to bullying. The "It' Gets Better" campaign assures gay kids that it will, one day, get better.

But if you happen to be a Boy Scout or an Eagle Scout, it won't get better until you get older, or choose to quit the Scouts. Because the Boy Scouts and the Eagle Scouts won't have you. This is organizational bullying on a massive scale--the powers-that-be of a longstanding public institution telling gay kids, "We don't like you, we won't have you, there is something fundamentally wrong with you." The message it sends to gay kids is that they are immoral, and that they are deserving of all of the bullying they may receive.

The BSA's public declaration of disdain for gays is all the more offensive in light of the fact that the organization has a record of protecting paedophiles. As yesterday's LA Times article reports

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Through silence, the organization for decades allowed paedophiles to continue hurting children. Meanwhile, it deems gays parents to be a bad influence on children. It's a twisted logic that allows persons who are known sex offenders to have close contact with children while waging a public campaign against individuals who have done nothing but serve their Scout troops honorobly.

In July, the BSA made a point of reaffirming its ban on gay leaders and members. The Girls Scouts has wisely gone the other direction, making inclusion a core principle. The USA Today editorial, Boy Scouts' Anti-Gay Policy Teaches Wrong Lesson, makes a salient point: the U.S. military figured out, an organization dedicated to integrity, teamwork and leadership benefits by being inclusive. Instead, the Boy Scouts of America has thrown its lot with a dwindling band of groups that place a higher premium on discrimination.

We all know to teach our children to be kind. We all know to love them and nurture them. We know to provide a safe and secure home environment, as well as a safe and welcoming social environment. We know our children need time to play, time to learn, and time to just be kids. We all know how important it is to teach our children to respect people who are different from them, people who are of a different religion or race, or of a different opinion. Most of us, in this day and age, would not dream of belonging to a country club--or any other club--that does not allow members of a certain race or religion.

A few months ago, my son asked me what "gay" meant, when he heard the word on the radio, and, in the interests of simplicity, I told him it means "when a girl like-likes a girl as a girlfriend, or a boy like-likes a boy, as a boyfriend." Because, being 7, he may not know anything about sex, but he does know the difference between "like" and "like-like." He said, "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," I said.

"But why are they talking about it?" he asked. In his innocence, in his natural childish tendency to be accepting, he couldn't fathom why anyone would be bothered by someone else "like-liking" whomever they chose.

Fortunately, my son hasn't expressed any great desire to be in the Cub Scouts. He doesn't like the uniforms, and that may be enough to curb his interest for a while. It also helps that he spends loads of one-on-one time with his dad, so it's not like he's missing out on any father-son time by not being in the Cub Scouts.  It would be much more difficult if he was begging me to join. My husband, for his part, isn't budging on this one. To him, the issue is too important, the message to kids too huge: you don't join a club that won't have your friends as a member.

We don't actually think this is the time to tell our son that some people hate gays. Why introduce a concept that is morally unfathomable to him at this age? We also don't need to tell him just yet that there are some people, including the leadership of the BSA, who despise his dad for his religious beliefs (see below). For now, we've just explained to our son that the Boy Scouts is a club that "doesn't let kids in that they don't like, and if they don't like a parent, they won't let that person be a Scout Leader." He thought that wasn't very nice. We left it at that. Thank goodness for those uniforms.

Boy Scouts and religious discrimination: There happens to be another group that is unwelcome in the Boy Scouts of America: atheists. Which would preclude my husband, a devoted dad and an upstanding citizen who has served his country for 17 years, from being a Scout leader. So the obvious question for our son, should it ever come up, would be: do you want to join a club that wouldn't have your dad as a member?

In addition to excluding atheists, the Boy Scout denies "Religion and Life" badges to kids whose religion does not square with the BSA's anti-gay policies. The badges are given to "designate proficiency in the tenets of a Scout's faith." This editorial notes that BSA has banned Unitarian Universalists from awarding these badges. Will it also ban the award of Religion and Life Badges to Reform Jews, who have "adopted formal resolutions endorsing civil rights for gays and lesbians"?

  • Would you allow your son to join the Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts? 
  • If your son is a Scout, how to you talk to him about the organization's discrimination, or do you feel he is too young to learn about it? 
  • Are you working to change the Scouts from the inside out? If so, I'd love to hear your story!

Michelle Richmond

New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog

Founder of Fiction Attic Press, blogging at Sans Serif

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