I wouldn’t say that I was gung-ho when my ex-husband told me he was going to sign our son up for the Boy Scouts in 2010. I had heard about their stringent anti-gay policy and didn’t want my child (or myself for that matter) to participate in any club that would exclude openly gay boys or parents. Influenced heavily by the stories from my childhood about the discrimination of country clubs in the 1950s, I compared the Boy Scouts’ rules to those racist policies. My Jewish grandparents weren’t able to join the inner circle of the sprawling golf and tennis club world back then because as the signs clearly read on many of those sprawling country club lawns:
No Jews. No blacks. No dogs.
Most of the parents of my son’s friends signed their boys up for the camping (and whittling!) These parents, as well as my son’s father, didn’t prescribe to the politics, yet were able to look at the positive elements. Of course we’re not okay with this policy, a few parents emphatically told me. Still, I couldn’t passively protest a discriminatory organization while actively supporting it. “You sign him up. You take him. You pay for it. This is your gig,” I told my ex. “I can’t get past their anti-gay policy.” This is the challenging part of blended family arrangements that I know comes as no surprise. You’re not always going to agree about fundamental issues.
And then this happened. A gay father, who according to reports sold well over his share of popcorn for the Scouts (popcorn is the Scout’s version of Girl Scout cookies) was asked to step down as scout leader from his 9-year-old son’s pack. Said the Texas-based dad, Jon Langbert at the time:
“What message does that send to my son? It says I’m a second-class citizen,” Langbert said.
For the sake of argument, let me say that my ex had what I’ll call a What if that was me? moment (along with other feelings about the organization) and pulled my kid out of the Scouts. Though I hadn’t explained anything to my son about my issue with the Boy Scouts just two months earlier (I didn’t want to shroud his experience with his father even though I was against it), I felt it was time to give him a lesson in How To Act Like A Good Human Being 101. As a family, we preached tolerance: no excluding kids or bullying kids because of their differences. How was this any different?
Because we have a number of gay parents in our small town, it was easy to pick a parent out and use as an example. I told him that his friend Jonah’s* dad wouldn’t be able to be a scout leader because he’s gay. And in our family, I explained, we treat everyone the way we want to be treated.
Just this week, the Boy Scouts’ newest reaffirmation of banning gay parents as leaders and gay children seems to have evoked a stronger public outcry. Maybe because in those two years, gay rights have made huge strides: the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; President Obama supports gay marriage; and gay marriage is legal in a few states. Yet the Boy Scouts continues to operate as a discriminatory dinosaur. The New York Times reported:
“The Boy Scouts of America is one of the last cultural institutions to have discrimination as part of their policy,” said Richard Ferraro, noting that the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the 4-H Clubs and now even the military forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Also this week, a Missouri-based Boy Scout camp fired Eagle Scout Eric Johnson after he came out of the closet. Johnson had worked there for five years.
One would think that the Boy Scouts would have a stronger agenda than just wanting to teach outdoor skills–but with the landscape of so many bullied kids who could find true refuge in the simplistic, outdoor-based camaraderie their organization offers, one would think that the Scouts would want to teach tolerance as well. But tolerance is a lesson we’ll have to teach our children–without any help from the Boy Scouts of America.
(*Not his real name.)