The Boy Scouts have missed an opportunity.
I’m not just referring to the fact that they have reaffirmed their policy of discrimination, thus violating at least five of the 12 tenets of the Boy Scout Law, but they had an opportunity to take a step in the right direction — just a step, not a complete policy reversal — and they refused it.
In April a resolution was submitted within the organization “asking the Boy Scouts to consider amending its policy on not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals. The resolution asked that the policy be amended to allow local units to determine their own standards.” This is a quote from a June 7 press release on the Boy Scout website. You’ll note that the resolution is simply asking that local councils be given the authority to make their own decisions about membership. From a political standpoint this was a good compromise. The national council could show that they were making some small progress against discrimination while still allowing conservative councils to ban members based on sexual orientation.
But if you read the full release you’ll see the desperate verbal gymnastics they go through to try to marginalize this idea. The resolution was submitted by “a single individual,” “Scouting’s voting members may submit resolutions, which represent that individual’s personal viewpoint” [my emphasis]. In a June 17 press release reaffirming the discriminatory policy and dismissing this resolution they make a point of emphasizing the “vast majority” of their membership who support the policy. It’s an interesting claim to make considering that they are refusing to disclose any information about the special committee that has spent nearly the last two years examining the policy. I have been unable to find any information indicating in that time that the committee did any work to poll the Boy Scout membership and find out what everyone in the organization — everyone — really thinks. Because, frankly, this seems like a decision driven by a limited group with a specific agenda.
How is it that the equally venerable Girl Scouts USA has had a non-discrimination policy for the last 30 years? They haven’t been perfect in how they apply it but at least the individual councils are free to set their own membership policies. A better example would be the Camp Fire organization, which has had a solid non-discrimination policy across the board for almost 40 years. Civil rights takes time and the tide has steadily been turning as the general public comes to realize that people of a different sexual orientation are just people. Just as they came to realize that blacks were in fact both equal and not separate, and the government wouldn’t collapse if women were allowed to vote. One day the Boy Scouts of America will reverse this policy — the question is, when?
I’m afraid it’s not going to be soon enough for our son. He’s a Boy Scout, and he loves it. Or I should say, he was a Boy Scout, and he loves Scouting, if not the organization that is its custodian. When the news came out about the policy, he was confused. We hadn’t really talked about the history of the Boy Scouts in this context and all he knew was the Boy Scout Oath and Law.
To help other people at all times.
To be trustworthy, friendly, courteous, kind.
When an 11-year-old boy hears the Boy Scouts don’t discriminate on the basis of race or religion it goes without saying that there’s nothing wrong with the mothers and fathers of his friends. It doesn’t matter if there are two dads or two moms, they’re parents just like any other parents. When dealing with them he’s more concerned if there’s going to be pizza for dinner and can he watch MythBusters?
So when he realized that the family and friends that he knows who are gay or lesbian were not allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts he immediately recognized that the policy was unfair and something had to be done. First of all, he wanted the people making the decision to form a new committee with an equal number of people from both sides. He wanted them to ask him and his Scout friends what they thought.
However, not being able to get that, he knew that if there were other people who were not allowed to be Boy Scouts, then he shouldn’t be one either. It was the only thing he could do to be fair.
So, as much as he loves Scouting, as proud as he is of his aviation merit badge, he gave it up.
Because all he wants is to help other people at all times.
Because he wants to be trustworthy, friendly, courteous, and kind.
Because he wants to be brave.
Update: I spoke with Sharon Moulds, Executive of the Chief Seattle Council, to get her perspective on how our local council views the national policy and what their plans are for applying it. In addition, I wanted to find out how the special committee gathered data to support the sweeping statement that the “majority” of the Boy Scout membership supports the policy.
Sharon led with the idea that our council is chartered by the national council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and if they didn’t follow national policy they would lose their charter, which is exactly what I expected to hear. Beyond that we discussed the scenario of whether or not they would turn away an openly gay member. She asked how they would know, which mirrors the don’t-ask don't-tell language the national council uses to temper their membership policy. I pointed out that participation in Scouting requires a significant parental investment in time and effort and even if nothing were said overtly a family dynamic of two moms or two dads would quickly become apparent. To her credit she did say that our council would still take no action unless someone raised an issue. Unfortunately, the national policy of discrimination will always fall on the side of those raising any issue thus skewing the decision-making process for anyone judging the situation.
Sharon pointed out that Jennifer Tyrrell’s status in Ohio wasn’t a problem until Ms. Tyrrell got into a conflict with the Cubmaster at which point he raised the issue of her sexual orientation in retaliation. Sharon admitted that the Ohio situation was handled very poorly and as long as an individual gets along with everyone you should be able to avoid a situation like this. Far from putting my mind at ease this example served to highlight the danger and injustice of the policy. No one should be expected to go into a situation with a sword of Damocles over his or her head.
To my other point about the “majority” of the BSA membership supporting the policy, Sharon did say our council’s executive board got to provide input and they are divided roughly in thirds over the policy – one third opposed, one third in support, and one third undecided. Despite the fact that this is completely anecdotal data it doesn’t seem to represent a majority of the membership – or the membership at all since she was speaking specifically about the executive board. She also pointed out that counting councils in the Midwest and South it’s very likely that a majority of members nationwide support the policy. That may be true, but since we still have no decent headcount at the membership level I can’t accept any statements about the “majority.”
I don’t want to beat up on Sharon Moulds; she’s certainly had enough hate mail from people unwilling to engage in a reasonable discussion. We finished our conversation by agreeing that change in any organization has to come from within. I would like to feel that the Chief Seattle Council could be a leader in driving change within the Boy Scouts of America – but sadly I really don’t think that’s going to happen.
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John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.