The Boy Scouts: Time to Call It Quits

October 22, 2012

An open letter to straight allies of the LGBT community:

Hello there, straight allies. Here I am again, asking for your help in making sure that LGBT people in our country are treated with fairness and respect. So here it is: Please take your boys out of Boy Scouts. It really is time. I know the Boy Scouts are fun, educational and do cool stuff, but the time has come to hold the Boy Scouts of America responsible for their decisions. Deactivating your son means that you are standing up for equality, letting your son and the BSA know that discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not acceptable and you won’t have your son be a part of an organization that blatantly and unapologetically says it is.  Deactivation also means a substantial loss in revenue for the BSA and at this point that may be the only thing that gets their attention.

Despite internal and external pressure to change their antiquated policy, this last July, Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its policy banning gay members and scout leaders. A statement that means, “Yes, we, in this year of 2012, are once again asserting our belief that LGBT people are not welcome. That they are immoral and it is acceptable to throw them out of community.” Last week, after twelve years spent completing the requirements to attain the Boy Scouts highest honor the prestigious Eagle Scout award, Ryan Andersen was thrown out of Scouts and denied the award because he is gay. Although Ryan’s mother has activated an on-line petition through to fight the Boy Scouts decision, I predict these 22,000 signatures will fall on deaf ears at the Boy Scouts of America.  Imagine if Ryan were your son or your son’s friend. How would you explain this to him? What would it feel like to be excommunicated from a group you had been a part of for the better part of your childhood?

The good news is we are finally starting to see some isolated incidents of push back around the country. In Northern California, ten staff members at a Boy Scout camp resigned in support of a 22 year old Eagle Scout leader who was fired for being gay.

This letter from Chris and Lauren Glaros of Ohio made the rounds on facebook this summer, skillfully explaining their decision to withdraw their seven year old son from Boy Scouts. A Board Member of the Ohio Valley River Council of the Boy Scouts resigned in April after Jennifer Tyrell, the leader of her son’s troop was ousted for being gay.

As an out queer person, I am not eligible to be a troop leader. To do so, I would have to lie, go back in the closet and risk the possibility of being discovered and essentially fired (from a volunteer position at that!). I would never be willing to do that because of what it would communicate not only to my son but to the other children. I want my son to be proud of ALL of who he is – whether he is straight, gay, somewhere in between, whether he likes music, art or sports, whether he is shy or outgoing. But most of all I want to teach him about  loving kindness and compassion. I want to teach him that all boys – all people – have inherent value and dignity and it is NEVER appropriate to exclude someone because of sexual orientation, race, gender or ability – among other core aspects of one’s identity and experience.

I don’t question that Boy Scouts can be a valuable experience but more important than what the Boy Scouts offer is teaching our children that we are all lovable and acceptable.  As we nurture our boys, don’t we want them to question the kind of man they want to be in the world? Don’t we want them to have the experience of being fully accepted for who they are?  My son is white, middle-class, gender-conforming and my early guess is that he is likely straight (or straight-ish). I want to raise a man who enters this world with compassion, understanding the experience of those less fortunate than himself.

So why do liberal people allow their sons to participate in boy scouts:  My guess is that many straight allies want to look the other way on “the boy scout issue” because they want their boys to enjoy the nice things the boy scouts have to offer.

Fighting for civil rights has always entailed personal sacrifice. Just as white people were necessary to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, straight people are necessary in the fight for equality for LGBT people and the end of institutionalized discrimination. Right now it may feel “easier” to just let your son participate but when you let your son participate this is what is implicit in that participation.

1. That being gay is bad and if you are gay you will be thrown out. Statistics suggest that there is at least one gay/bisexual boy in every troop. That child will learn – if not now then later – that who he is not acceptable. If he knows he is gay already, he will live in fear EVERYDAY of being found out. And that is not an exaggeration. It is the chronic  sense of inadequacy and rejection that is the basis for so many suicide attempts by LGBT people. And even if your son is straight do you want him being part of an organization which tells him that gay boys are different and don’t deserve to participate.

2. Gay friends in the community are not fit to be leaders of the troop. (Imagine trying to explain to your son why the gay father of your son’s best friend can’t be a troop leader. Or if you know me personally, I’d like you to look me in the eye and explain to me why it’s ok for your son to participate in a group that deems my “lifestyle” too immoral to permit me to lead your son.)

3. Gay people are immoral and not safe to be around children (the BSA literature actually cites the “moral” problem with homosexuality, and the exclusion of particularly gay male leaders was historically based in the horrible stereotype that at best gay men are not adequate models of “masculinity” and at worst are sexual predators).

4. And mostly importantly, that it is ok to look the other way when discrimination doesn’t affect you directly.  The civil rights movement needed white people just like the gay rights movement needs straight people.  Would you let your son participate in a club that didn’t allow African-Americans or didn’t allow people who had been adopted, for example. Truthfully it doesn’t seem that much to ask that you find an alternative activity for your son so that the discrimination of LGBT people does not continue to be systemically enforced.

I’m sure your son will be disappointed not to belong to Boy Scouts. My son will be disappointed and perhaps he won’t understand until he’s older. I will tell him that I understand his feelings but we want him to be part of an organization that is inclusive and actually carries out the values they set forth (see the Glaros letter for a good discussion of this) and until the Boy Scouts decide to do this we are going to find another organization.

To borrow a line from the marriage equality movement, wouldn’t you rather be on the right side of history? When your children are grown wouldn’t you like them be able to see that you had a set of values and beliefs that you abided by even though there was a personal cost.

This week the Boy Scouts released files documenting the cover up of decades of sexual abuse.  In coming weeks I think we will come to see that this cover up is of the same likes as Penn State if not the Catholic Church.  The leaders of BSA cared more about maintaining the reputation of its leaders than protecting children.  Maintaining status, reputation and power were clearly the main objectives. So if you don’t want to pull your sons to help end discrimination against LGBT people, you may want to pull them from an organization that allowed boys to be abused FOR DECADES without holding the adult perpetrators responsibility.

Continued institutionalized discrimination is devastating for young LGBT people. The cost to their mental health is tremendous. I am asking you as your neighbor, your friend and an LGBT person to take a stand against the Boy Scouts of America and withdraw your children until their policies are amended. When scouts and leaders take action and withdraw their financial support, maybe the BSA will begin to listen.

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