There are certain things I can count on at the beginning of every school year— helping my son adjust to a new routine, having a new teacher, and making new friends. Knowing these changes are inevitable makes them a little easier to bear.
But one thing that catches me off guard every single year is the sign-up sheet for an interest meeting of our local Boy Scouts.
Since he’s in fourth grade, you might think that by now I’d have grown used to the seemingly hundreds of sheets of paper my son stuffs in his backpack and brings home. And while I anticipate the emergency cards I need to fill out in triplicate and the permission slips for him to see the school nurse, each year the Boy Scouts sign-up sheets feel like a kick in the gut.
Like a lot of parents, my husband and I feel conflicted about supporting an organization that has a policy against gay members and leaders. Like a lot of parents, we struggle with how to explain to our son that their exclusion of children and potential volunteers based on their sexual orientation goes against everything we’re teaching him at home.
We struggle to help our son accept that until the Boy Scouts change their policy, he won’t be allowed to participate.
I love the idea of the Boy Scouts and the experiences they offer kids like my son. I love the fact that it’s a supportive environment providing hands-on learning and focusing on accomplishing goals. I truly believe that the Boy Scouts gives boys a chance to try new things that they’re not likely to experience in any other environment, and that the skills they learn help them later in life. There’s really no other program like it.
Because of their policy of exclusion, though, I can’t support the organization.
Several years ago my son was persistent about joining the Cub Scouts, and we decided that despite our gut feelings against it we ultimately should support our child. It was during a time when he wasn’t enthusiastic about many of the activities available in our small community, so we allowed him to attend the initial gathering and one Cub Scouts meeting. I’ll be honest: it was a positive experience. It was great to see parents involved in their children’s interests, and to see young boys learning leadership and life skills.
I began to feel guilty about allowing him to participate; after all, it was something I’d sworn I’d never do. I also felt a twinge of guilt every time I thought of our gay friends and family members, since not supporting an anti-gay organization was one basic thing I’d always thought I could do for the cause. After the first real meeting, my son didn’t go back, and we had to explain why.
We’ve had that same conversation each time he’s brought it up since, and as all parents know, it’s heartbreaking to see disappointment in your child’s eyes.
That’s why when I heard the news today that the organization is “close” to changing its longstanding policy— one that went as far as the US Supreme Court in 2000— I was hopeful. I’m optimistic that the time has come for the Boy Scouts and other organizations with openly discriminatory policies to end their exclusion. I’m hopeful for gay youth and leaders who’ve been unable to participate.
I’m hopeful for my sons, too. I hope that next year when my then 5th grader and new kindergartner bring home the Boy Scouts sign up sheet, the only conversation we have is whether or not they’d like to join.
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