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The Problem With the Boy Scouts (And Why I Can't Just Let It Go)

Saw an interesting news item yesterday.

According to an article in Mother Jones, a Maryland chapter of the Boy Scouts of America was forced by the organization’s National Big Bosses to remove a statement from their website which had promised inclusivity and acceptance for all scouts and their families notably, gay scouts and scout masters.

Apparently, the members and organizers of Pack 442 had decided a while back that it would be a good idea to incorporate a nondiscrimination clause that adds orientation to the list of other stuff that shouldn’t keep a kid from becoming a Boy Scout: race, religion, national origin and physical ability.

Les Baron, CEO/Godfather/Dark Sith Lord of the BSA, found out about it and stated that if Pack 442 didn’t pull the inclusivity statement, they would no longer be acknowledged as part of the organization. He went on to say flat-out that the only problem with the statement was the part about acceptance of gays. “That’s a message that’s against our policy,” he said, “and we don’t want it to continue to be out in our community.”

(I now take a moment to silently acknowledge that it takes some serious cajones to be so bigoted in such an official and public way. You clearly earned your Homophobia badge when you were a young scout, Mr. Baron.)

I know this isn’t exactly news. We’ve read this stuff before. Pack 442 isn’t the first Boy Scout chapter that’s had to choose between accepting gay members and getting drop-kicked out of the BSA. In the end, after an online poll for the pack members’ families asking whether they should keep the nondiscrimination statement and no longer be an official BSA chapter, or take it out and retain their affiliation, the pack leaders ended up removing the statement from its charter. Which I understand. These kids want to be Boy Scouts. They may also be fans of equality, but… they also want to be scouts, and it’s not fair to turn them into political chess pieces.

Still… argh.

After reading this story, I did a little lurking through some of the resulting Comment boards. Never a good idea.

Some people were outraged on behalf of gay (or potentially gay) boy scouts everywhere.

Some people defended the BSA, saying that as a private organization, it can do whatever it wants. Which is true.

But the comments that really got to me were the ones from BSA supporters who said: “You know what? If you don’t like their policy, don’t sign your kid up to be a Boy Scout. Go do something else.”

Ok. I’m going to put on my grown-up pants and try to say this as clearly and maturely as possible: here’s why that particular line of reasoning is not only illogical, but will ultimately bring about the downfall of civilization and make the entire planet eventually explode.

This is a classic “love it or leave it” argument, which claims there are only two options: accept the BSA’s discriminatory foundation or… turn a blind eye and just don’t join. If I had a son, I could always just not sign him up for Boy Scouts and call the problem solved. Right?

Wrong. True, I don’t have to put my son in Scouts. I don’t even have a son. But I do have a daughter. I have a daughter who walks around in the world every day constantly absorbing the culture, and interpreting its messages. One of those messages is being put out by the BSA, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Their message is: discriminating against race? Bad. Against religion? Really bad. But discriminating against sexual orientation? Absolutely and totally ok. They couldn’t make it any clearer. Because the BSA feels that homosexuality isn’t something inherent like skin color. It seems very possible that they still cling to the outdated notion that being gay is nothing more than a “lifestyle choice.”

They may not come right out and state they don’t want gay kids in the organization. But that’s what a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy says. This is what a group says when it wants to protect straight people from gay people. That’s the other part of the BSA’s message: homosexuality is a disease.

Still, why can’t we just let it go and leave the Boy Scouts alone? Why can’t we just let them be all phobic and give our sons something else to do on the weekends?

Because when the BSA tells Pack 442 they’d rather disown them than see them respect gay people, damage gets done. This is an organization that prides itself on teaching its members to possess “strong character.” This is an organization that states it’s creating tomorrow’s leaders while explaining that those leaders must a) be straight, and b) be kept away from gays.

And that’s why I can’t let it go.

(P.S. It looks like there may have been an update in the last few hours. The BSA claims it plans on “reexamining” their position and may consider letting individual chapters decide whether they’d like to embrace nondiscrimination policies. I’m skeptical… but I’ll wait and see.)

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