To tell a gay kid they’re allowed to join, but that a gay adult is unfit to be a leader is a backhanded shove into the closet.
Being gay and a former Scout, I’ve followed the recent issues regarding the Boy Scouts of America and their stance on LGBT members very closely. I was excited by the initial prospect of the BSA opening their membership, and later, angrily duped by their back-pedaling.
Then near the end of last week’s round-the-clock coverage of the tragedies in Boston and West, TX, the Boy Scouts of America snuck in (almost) under the radar with a proposed amendment* regarding LGBT persons in their ranks. The verdict? Gay Scouts allowed. Gay leaders not.
Seriously?!? Of all the half-assed, blatantly insulting, meandering bullshit—
After regaining composure, I started to think about the execution of this: So while LGBT youth can no longer be banned or kicked out for being gay, the real menace (sex-having gay adults) is still kept safely outside the camp. Logistically, what does this mean? Would an openly gay Scout have to hand over his sash upon turning 18? Be rejected when applying for a leadership role? Forced to wear a pink triangle badge once he lost his virginity?
This proposed change in wording doesn’t offer acceptance to anyone. To tell a gay (or secretly questioning) kid they’re allowed to join/remain, but that a gay or lesbian adult is unfit to be a leader, a bad influence, unworthy — is in actuality a backhanded shove into the closet. A scare tactic.
Jennifer Tyrrell, the lesbian Scout leader forced out as leader of her 7 year-old son’s Cub Scout den in April 2012, released a statement in reply:
“One year after sending a letter ousting me as my son’s leader, the Boy Scouts are once again forcing me to look my children in the eyes and tell them that our family isn’t good enough. My heart goes out to the young adults in Scouting who would be able to continue as Scouts if this is passed, but then be thrown out when they reach the age to become leaders.”
While my reaction seems prevalent among the LGBT community, I was curious to hear from those “working from within” who felt this was genuinely a step in the right direction.
Kathy and Sharisse are both mothers of current Scouts and heavily involved in their local organizations in Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively. They are also both strong advocates for LGBT equality.
Sharisse serves as Committee Chair of her 10 year-old son’s Webelo pack. She speaks of her primary concerns — the Scouts themselves:
“I’m looking at the new policy as a positive move in the right direction. It immediately addresses and corrects my most pressing concern: Boys who have done all the work to attain their Eagle ranking will be able to receive the highest award in scouting. The path to Eagle takes a considerable amount of work and focus to complete. For this reason, I’m thrilled with the Board’s decision. If you do the work, you get the reward… a valuable life lesson.”
Kathy, whose son is an Eagle Scout, comes from a large family with a long history of involvement in Scouts. She shares Sharisse’s opinion — that the BSA, being a youth organization, has made a good first step in addressing this issue as it applies to the boys themselves.
Kathy revealed how this new policy has been received internally. She and her son took part in an official BSA survey regarding the LGBT policy. They later received an email with the results: In a summary of the findings, it said respondents overall supported the BSA’s current policy of excluding gays by a margin of 61 percent to 34 percent, while a majority of younger parents and teens opposed the policy.
“If you look at the stats from the survey — 61% were against lifting the ban — they went against the majority of their membership to at least make this much of a stance,” Kathy observes.
Sharisse gives additional insight into the current makeup of Scouting families, “All of us in scouting already know many active gay parents who are involved with their kids’ activities and volunteer to keep the organization going. Scouting relies 100% on parent volunteers to lead each Pack and Troop. Given the views of the new generation of parents enrolling their Cubs now, it is not a matter of IF but WHEN an official decision will allow for total inclusion. I will stand steadfast with the BSA and not abandon it to wither into an obsolete group with old ways of thinking.”
I hear and appreciate these perspectives. And I admire Kathy and Sharisse’s patience, as well as their admonishment to me (and many others who are frustrated) to be patient.
I realize we can’t go charging in half-cocked and expect people to listen. But patience has to be partnered with persistence. Patience alone leads nowhere. Without the impatience and indignation of those being rejected, there wouldn’t be a discussion in the first place. And absolutely NO change. Not even this half-step attempt to appease both sides.
To be clear, I’m not rooting for the demise of the Boy Scouts. If I didn’t value the lessons and experiences I gained during my time as both a Cub and Boy Scout, I wouldn’t bother debating the issue in the first place. As I stated at the start, I’m personally invested. In addition to being a former Scout and gay, I’m also the father of a 3 year-old boy whose current favorite activity is to pretend he’s camping. I hope my son — and his Dad — get the chance to be included, adding some much-needed diversity to its already rich legacy.
Talking to these true Scouting “insiders” has given me hope. I and other LGBT Americans don’t have the opportunity to change the organization from within, and Sharisse, Kathy and others like them won’t every fully understand what it’s like to be excluded. But through dialog, both sides — which are working towards the same goal, by the way — can benefit from each other’s perspective, combining a collective persistence and patience to bring about true and purposeful change for the Boy Scouts of America.
As I finished my conversation with Kathy, I told her to keep prodding from the inside, and I’ll keep poking on the outside. She said we had a deal, but that she wanted a picture of me in a uniform when the BSA fully embraces LGBT Scouts, leaders and parents.
I hope to deliver something even better — a picture of me, my son AND my husband, all wearing those god-awful red and green knee socks with pride…and a little extra flair.
*This proposal will be sent to the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20. The organization’s board must also ratify the resolution in May.
—Photo by FeeBeeDee/Flickr