Celeste Headlee, The Takeaway
Celeste Headlee, is a former co-host of The Takeaway.
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.