My Son, the Boy Scout

Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 06:52 AM

I understand the anger many people now feel toward the Boy Scouts of America. After a two-year, very secretive review, the organization has reaffirmed its decision not to allow gay boys to join or gay parents to serve.

Frankly, I think that's a terrible message to our children. We have to face some difficult facts about our kids: The incidence of depression and drug use is much higher among gay teens, they are more likely to be bullied, and the suicide rate is significantly higher as well. Even more telling, suicides are even higher among gay teens in conservative regions where the schools aren't required to support gay rights.

If the purpose of the BSA is to help develop and educate our next generation of boys, then that last statistic should be a warning. Their policy is not just harmful to gay children, but to the straight kids who are implicitly receiving a message that its OK to discriminate. Can you imagine a situation in which a teenager is booted out of the troop in which he's made friends and achieved success, simply because he comes out in high school? What about the young child who wants his father to be a troop leader, but his dad has to explain that he can't because his sexual orientation is not welcome in the Scouts?

I felt so strongly about this issue that I refused to enroll my son in Cub Scouts when he was very young. I didn't even buy popcorn from the kids in neckerchiefs, but blew 20 or 30 bucks on Girl Scout cookies instead. (The Girl Scouts do not discriminate and have said that, "It's not in our makeup to have to define people like that. The Boy Scouts believes that to be gay is somehow immoral. That is not our feeling.")

But then my 8-year-old son begged me to let him join the Scouts. He knew about the national policy on homosexuals and disagreed with it, but he wanted to join anyway.

So I enrolled him. And it's been one of the best decisions that I've made as a parent. As a single mother estranged from her family, my son's isolation was always a concern for me. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program didn't have enough volunteers to include him, and he had almost no contact with his aunts, uncles, and grandparents. At a crucial moment in his life, the Boy Scouts stepped in.

When you think about the Scouts, it's important to separate the national organization based in Texas from the local troops. The people running local troops are mostly conscientious dads and granddads (with plenty of wonderful moms and grandmoms, too) who volunteer their time to guide and support the young boys in their community. They teach them to fish and provide first aid, knife safety, swimming, fire safety, even basket weaving. They teach them to be respectful, and show leadership.

But the most important thing these volunteers do is give these boys their time and attention. They give up their weekends to camp with large groups of unruly boys. They drive them for hours, loan out their cell phones, hike through the mud, and sit out rainstorms in their tents. For my son, his troop leaders have been the male adult role models that he lacked at home, and he has not learned to be prejudiced against gays. On the contrary, he's become more outraged by the BSA policy as he grows older.

I hope that my son becomes a force for change in the Scouts. Instead of boycotting the organization and abandoning it altogether, I hope he can work from within to change a policy he disagrees with. I think he has the will power to follow through, the determination to fight, and the leadership skills needed to start a movement. And he learned those things in the Scouts.

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Comments [8]

Doug from michigan

Oh come on now people this is stupid,if a private group in america is aginst something it's perfectly legal and right for them to not accept it in their group. It's your choice to be gay,fine but this is america who are you gays to force the acceptance of your choice on a group that disagrees with you. I personaly think chooseing to be gay is wrong and a bad choice but I don't hate gays for that choice and neither do the scouts all they are saying is they are aginst a ccertian life choice, and they made the choice to not have it around their group. Why would gays want to belong to a group where they aren't wanted anyway, you chose to be gay go do gay things I think really you just want to force people to accept you and your choices sad

Aug. 07 2012 09:49 AM
David from South Lyon

Drew, your vague stats and your logic aren't persuasive.
If a woman is heterosexual, does that mean she should not be allowed to be in a leadership role of groups of individuals of the opposite sex? Or is it just men who can't control themselves? You'd surely put a lot of church youth ministers out of business. Rather than silly rules that eliminate wonderful leaders, the practice many organizations find successful includes policies, training, background checks, and lots of parental involvement.

Jul. 21 2012 03:08 PM
Drew from US

So let's just forget about the over 2000 sexual abuse cases within the organization of male leaders abusing boys and push the liberal agenda on the BSOA to allow open gay leaders. What sense does that make? Whether or not you believe there is a connection between pedophelia and homosexuality, the fact of the matter is a private organization such as the BSOA has the right and responsiblity to protect the scouts from such repeat occurrances. If they feel their boys are at higher risk allowing gay males who by definition are sexually attracted to other males, then they are doing the right thing. It's for the same reason a straight man shouldn't lead a group teenage girls. It's inappropriate.

Jul. 19 2012 10:49 PM
Paul from New Mexico

As stated, local groups of scouts may or may not aggree with the national policy. As a long time scouter, I know that in the day to day of running a troop,we don't have discussions about sexuality. And for the record, none of the money goes to the national council from popcorn, just local councils for camp improvements, recruitment, etc. Our unit supports our program with popcorn money. Much more of that money comes to my son than my daughter gets from GS cookies. (a quarter a box)

Jul. 19 2012 02:16 PM
Patrick Hogan from Southern California

Thank you for this. As a gay Eagle Scout who worked for the Boy Scouts as a backpacking guide for two summers, I feel very well placed to echo your sentiment. Scouting has always been a huge part of my life (at least, until I came out), and most of what the scouts do is tremendously good. The decision to discriminate against gay, atheist and agnostic people is deplorable, but it does not erase the good that Scouting has done and continues to do.

I try to limit my support of Scouts to individuals and troops-- unless things change, I'll be giving my younger brother camping gear rather than buying popcorn (a significant portion of the profits from popcorn sales go to the national offices). I think that's a nice compromise-- support the individuals while consciously avoiding support of the execs, all while vocally calling for an end to the policy of exclusion.

Jul. 19 2012 12:53 PM
WillIam from Greenwich

Why Fight to get into an institution that is ABSOLUTELY filled with bigotry.....Hit them where it hurts....In the pocket book..Do your homework and don't shop at stores that give to BSA, don't donate money to BSA and foundations that support the BSA (i.e. local united ways) etc ....

Jul. 19 2012 09:34 AM
Marissa Gonzalez from New York City

Being a member of a group, and remaining so, even through my values or life philosophies don't completely match seem to me to be a fact of life.
It starts with the family you're born into. How about the country you are a citizen of. Or even the school one attends? Most recently my career of 16 years with a really great company where I was only in alighnment with perhaps 75% of their business practices.
It's nearly impossible to find complete agreement within groups or organizations no matter how focused one is on doing the best for others, communities, the environment, etc. Often moving within a group is a best chance for influencing change.
I am deeply disappointed in The Boys Scout's stance, unfortunately the agree with some members of my very own family.
Very disappointing.

Jul. 19 2012 09:22 AM
David from South Lyon

Thank you for this brave, brilliant post on this difficult topic. Scouting was a great experience for my many years ago. As you say, the local groups are still working wonders and leading young men to do wonderful things. Too bad the national leaders are so misguided.

thank you Celeste

Jul. 19 2012 08:25 AM

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