I joined the Cub Scouts when I was in elementary school. I wanted to be one, and unbeknownst to me at the time, the troop I was joining was in danger of closing, so my father became the Scoutmaster and ran the troop just so I could be a part of it. Thus began a nearly decade long adventure for me, my two brothers and my father with the Boy Scouts of America.
We did it all. We camped, we built pinewood derby cars, we sold Scout Fair tickets door to door that won us a ping pong table. We competed, we tied knots, I went to summer camp, I staffed at summer camp and a Junior Leader Training Conference and I backpacked one summer through Philmont, the giant Boy Scout ranch in New Mexico. My father worked at the district level for all of Houston and my mother even had a uniform. We collected and traded Boy Scout patches – we were seriously, for real, Boy Scouts.
One of the first epic arguments in life with my father was that I never finished my Eagle Scout work, and I was very close. We moved overseas when I was 16, and the Boy Scout troop there was a joke and did not camp, so I didn’t want to keep doing it. But for a decade, Scouts was a huge part of our lives, second only to church.
The Boy Scouts of America have just recently announced a possible plan to move away from their staunch anti-gay policy to a “let the local troops and troop sponsors” decide approach. It has received criticism from all sides. Conservatives think it is the end of all that is good and clean about the Boy Scouts and HRC President Chad Griffin likened this ambivalent compromise to a national restaurant chain deciding not to discriminate but allowing its local franchises to discriminate if they feel like it.
I find this discussion challenging, and my feelings on it are somewhat undefined still. Being a Boy Scout was an incredible experience for me. Growing up in Texas as a gangly adolescent with glasses and braces who did not play football, Boy Scouts provided an environment for me to interact and befriend other guys my age where the rules of the organization meant we had to work together in ways that required both physical ability and intelligence. I managed to flourish and grow more comfortable with my own burgeoning manhood in a very masculine environment that was supportive and encouraging. It wasn’t necessarily cool to say it at school, but I loved being a Boy Scout.
I find the conflict between the LGBT community and the Boy Scouts to fall squarely in the murky territory of our society where we are still finding the line between protecting and advancing the civil rights of minority groups while maintaining the right of individuals, groups or assemblies of people to hold bigoted, misogynistic, sexist, racist or anti-gay views regardless of how at odds those views are with the rest of the society.
On one side I lean toward the idea that you know what you are getting in to in joining the Boy Scouts. What they believe is not new or news. There is, and has always been, an inherently religious aspect to the Boy Scouts. A great number of Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops are sponsored by or meet at churches. In the Boy Scout motto (which I still know) the final characteristic of a Scout is listed as “reverent.” It’s also in the oath “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…” and ends with, “…to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Obviously there is plenty of room for endless discussion on how each person defines “reverent” and “morally straight” (though that last phrase is humorously relevant to this discussion in the specific word choice). Nonetheless, the religious overtones in the Boy Scouts are strong and have always been so.
To give a comparable example, atheists who do not want their child exposed to religious beliefs they do not agree have argued to have God and any reference to it removed from the Boy Scout motto, oath and discussion. This has been unsuccessful as well.
My question then becomes, if you disagree with the Boy Scouts so fundamentally, why do you want to be a part of it? If you want the idea of the Boy Scouts without the dogma and beliefs and requirements of the Boy Scouts, start your own camping club. Make it better than theirs. More inclusive than theirs, and teach your children and the children of like-minded individuals to be better than they are.
Yes, I know, equality and rights and all of that. And I understand the corollary, though I do not believe it truly works as a comparison, that a racist could open a small restaurant and say, “It’s my business and I don’t like any coloreds, so they can’t eat here,” and we’ve established as a society that that is wrong. So why is it different with the Boy Scouts and “the gays”?
I just believe that in the advancement of rights, we have to be careful not to push so far that we remove someone else’s right to be wrong. Or a group of people’s right to be wrong. They don’t include girls! As though there are not girls who would enjoy and benefit from the kinds of activities that Boy Scouts provides. An atheist doesn’t get to go to a church and say “I don’t believe in God, and I want to be here, so you have to stop talking about Him.” At some point, there has to be some acknowledgment that reshaping anything and everything to look exactly the way it should be is not the same thing as legal and social equality.
To be clear, I don’t agree with the Boy Scouts, on many things. I was told to “man up” on several occasions where an intelligent and receptive ear would have been more helpful developmentally at the time. I just don’t think that forcing an organization to become what you want it to be is necessarily the best solution. They are a private organization. Fight their tax exempt status. Fine. Criticize corporations that support them for contributing to a bigoted and definitively sexist organization – even better. Use the tools of society to demonstrate that the archaic concepts they teach and espouse are growing less and less relevant to our modern culture – I’m completely on board.
The disapproval of society and an impact on financial stability are incredibly powerful motivators and are a great way to demonstrate that there are consequences to not joining the rest of us in a modern and more equal society. However, attempting to force them to directly accept something they disagree with or change who they fundamentally wish to be, walks too close to the line of dictating thoughts and actions, and removes the free will each of us, and each group we belong to, has to be ridiculously and ludicrously wrong, if we so choose.
Besides, I learned some gay stuff in Boy Scouts, so it’s not like the gay isn’t going to keep being there anyway.