Thursday, July 19, 2012

On My Honor...

A small item in the news  the other day has  created a bit of excitement in my email inbox.    As of this posting  no fewer than 33 people have contacted me asking what do  I think of the announcement by the Boy Scouts of America, upholding the  BSA policy prohibiting  Gays and Lesbians from  participation  in the American Scouting program. 

The Boy Scouts of America will uphold the organization's ban that prevents gay people from being members of the organization, after concluding a confidential two-year review.   An 11-member committee formed in 2010 unanimously agreed to uphold a ban that prevents "open or avowed" gay people from being part of the youth organization. In a statement released to the Associated Press, 
BSA chief executive Bob Mazzuca said the policy is supported by most Scout families:
"The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting. We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."

Summer Camp Staff - 1987
Ok then...   If you really want to know what I think,  (and apparently at least 33 of you do...)  then a little bit of history and context  is required.   I  was involved in  Scouting for most of my life up until the late 1990's.   The  experiences  and friendships   that  I have had  while in Scouting  were, and  remain, a pivotal factor in making me the person I am today.   I truly believe that  Scouting is a force for good in  a troubled world, and  participation in  Scouting is  one of the greatest gifts any parent can give their child. 

The decision to keep the current membership policies in place was the right one.     I understand many of you may be very  surprised to hear me say that.  But hear me out...      I understand  the anger many of my fellow  former Scouts and Scouters feel towards the BSA  on this issue.  It is  very easy, and even cathartic to point fingers at  Irving Texas and decry the bigotry  and discrimination  the current membership policies  perpetuate.  

The fact is,  the BSA  is not at present,  able to make that kind of cultural  change.  The reasons for this  are not  because of a “culture of homophobia”  that critics of  the BSA  like claim is behind the decision. The policies  on membership in the BSA  have very little to do with  morals or  social  attitudes, and  very much to do with political and financial realities.

Scout Camp Staff - 1991
I was an active member of  Scouting for over a quarter of a century, and not once, did I ever hear  anyone say  being  Gay or Lesbian was either good or bad.  The subject simply never came up.   The topic of  human sexuality  really  had nothing do  with  outdoor  skills and  leadership development.

The argument that many supporters of the policy make, that banning Gay and Lesbian volunteers is a “Youth Protection Issue”  is equally ridiculous.  Statistics on abuse cases  in organizations  like the BSA  paint a clear and very different picture of who is a threat to kids in Scouting   The majority of cases involve married,  self-identified heterosexuals with children of their own in the program, and not Gay and Lesbian parents. So why is the policy still there?  The answer is complicated but  the reasons can largely be traced back to a deal the BSA made over 30 years ago. 

In the 1970's the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) offered to make the BSA an  official youth program for the entire  Mormon church. Meaning EVERY LDS church in America would sponsor a Boy Scout Troop and/or Cub Scout Pack, or Explorer Scout post. This was at a time when membership in Scouting was in dramatic decline and many thought the program had seen it's day. Then the LDS Church  came along with their offer, and with it tens of thousands of kids joined the program. It made the Mormon Church the single largest sponsor of Scouting, which also gave the LDS church a great deal of say over how Scouting is run.

The 2nd largest sponsor of Scouting is the Catholic Church.   The reality is, the membership policy needed to be upheld.  For the simple reason that both the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church have said that should the membership policies in question (the ban on Gay and Lesbians  and the requirement to believe in a God (any God, the policy does not specify, all it says you have to believe in a higher spiritual Power) Should either of those policies be changed BOTH churches would pull out of Scouting completely.

That would mean the end of the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA, at present, would not be able to function without the membership and money that the sponsorship by those two churches provides.   So the question becomes  do you kill the entire program, over this one issue?  

Many in the BSA would in all honestly love to be able to just quietly get rid of both policies , The public relations nightmare that has resulted from keeping in place discrimination is one the BSA would really like to be free of.  But it really is not up to the BSA at this point.   The Boy Scouts of America is for better or worse, a hostage to the financial support of two religious organizations that practice politically expedient  homophobia.  Until that changes,  the BSA is not in a position to make any change in its membership policies.

So what should parents who disagree with the policies do?  Simple you need to take responsibility as a parent and do what  the BSA suggests that you do - "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting...."

The decision by the BSA offers parents of Scouts the opportunity to have a conversation with their kids about the issues of equality and civil rights. And by that, I mean the rights of Gays and Lesbians AND the rights of a private non-profit organization like Scouting to set their own membership standards.  My mother is an ordained Lutheran Minister, so naturally I feel the Catholic Church's ban on female clergy is incredibly stupid, therefore, I am not a Catholic. Yet the United States Constitution protects the Catholic Church's right to be incredibly stupid.

At my last Scouting
 Event in 2000
For me, the decision to leave Scouting was incredibly painful. I love the program and to say it has been a huge part of my life, would be a massive understatement. I have met the most amazing friends  I have ever known  through my involvement in the Boy Scouts of America.  But for me to have remained in Scouting as an adult, meant  I would have had to lie.  Lie about who I am,  and who I love.  So I had to make a choice.   As a result of that choice, some of those friends,  I have lost.   Many however, most however,  understood, and hope one day to see me back in that  Scout uniform.

Likewise if you in good conscience cannot live with the BSA's membership policies,  then you need to make a choice.  Does this one issue negate everything else positive about Scouting?  If for you, it does, then by all means, don't join,  or if you and/or your kids are in Scouting now, the choice may be to get out.  There are plenty of other activities and organizations out there for young people to join.

It is worth noting,  there are groups who are working  to bring about  a change in the policies of the BSA.   Groups like  Scouting For  All,  have worked to educate both the BSA and its sponsoring  organizations.  The fact that  Scouting has spent the last two years  studying the issue is testament to the impact these groups and individuals  are having.    
 Lord Robert Baden-Powell,  the founder of Scouting   once said  "Your influence, like your shadow may reach places you will never be..."    Change for the BSA won't  come through a task force of 11 people, debating for two  years. It will  come through the power of example of people who believe the values of Scouting are not limited only to heterosexuals.  

So if you understand that a movement can be better than, and bigger than the organizations that represent it. If your experience in Scouting isn't defined by this one issue. Then by all means, stay in the program.  Be the example.

To those among my friends who see this week's announcement as a defeat,  my response is,  (as frustrating as it is to hear...)  be patient.  The arc of history bends toward equality.  I honestly believe the BSA will get there.  When it does, I will be first in line to  once again,  put on a uniform, and give of both my time and money.

In the meantime,  I would point out  that  you may be focusing your anger on the wrong target.  It is the bigotry and homophobia of the Mormon and Catholic churches that is at the center of this issue.   Yes the leadership of the BSA does bear responsibility for keeping these policies in place, but I would also say,  don't JUST blame the hostage.  Blame the two groups who are holding the BSA hostage.


Kevin said...

Dave, oh so fantastically wise and mentoring Dave. This post is 100% perfect! People have asked me many, many times how I feel about this, where I am an advocate for the BSA and a supporter of gay and lesbian rights. Up until now I have not had a good enough explanation and I have simply said I support both, hoping that generic answer would sooth the savage beast.

In fact I had an online Facebook conversation last night with one of my Pack Committee members because she was targeted and called a bigot and a mother of Nazi children because she supports the Scouts and has her boys in the program.

This....this, hits the nail on the head, it is a perfect description on how I and I'm sure, many others feel.

If you wouldn't mind I would like to share this post and use it to explain to people what is really going on.

Don't blame the hostage, blame the two groups holding the hostage....brilliant!

Joshua Feyen said...

Dave, great post and I disagree with your statement " But it really is not up to the BSA at this point."

The BSA does have a choice to stand up to the Mormon and Catholic churches. And I read your entire post, it would mean the loss of thousands of scout troop homes and millions of dollars in support. It would mean being a small (a much smaller) organization. And it would follow it's own motto:

"DUTY TO OTHER PEOPLE: Many people need help. A cheery smile and a helping hand make life easier for others. By doing a Good Turn daily and helping when you're needed, you prove yourself a Scout and do your part to make this a better world."

It would also mean:
- United Ways across the country would once again provide financial support to the scouts.
- Many other churches would open their doors without strings attached.
- People like you would support the movement as adults.

As you wrote, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting once said "Your influence, like your shadow may reach places you will never be..."

In this case, a different BSA decision would influence adult and young people's thinking across the country about accepting people as they are regardless of any differences. It would hammer one more nail in the coffin of gay oppression and homophobia. It would obey its duty to other people courageously in the face of financial deprivation.

I think BSA's decision is cowardly, a mockery of the organization and no better than a politician taking money from a special interest group to cow the corporate rope.

My thinking here is all hypothetical and even overly hopeful and optimistic. But then, we now have gay marriage in five states and Washington D.C., something I didn't think I'd see in my lifetime.

Thank you for explaining this very thorny issue. I love you!


Brickett Allis said...

I really enjoyed reading this article, I have been at the center of a debate that started off civil and has become very nasty. I agree with what you wrote, and learned a little bit, I thought for the longest time that the decisions were based on not only the ill concieved notion that gay=pedophile, but also that allowing it meant when something did happen that they would be sued so it was "best to just not know or allow it" clearly misguided. however, I didn't know, and frankly probably should have, that the mormon church is a big supporter. either way I am at the middle of a huge controversy because I was not happy that a group of scouts who want to make a statement (which is their right) had internet postings stopping just short of callinig all eagle scouts who will not send their awards back homophobes. Which I took personally, because that is just another generalization. Your post was entered into the online debacle that started as 2 freinds disagreeing. Just wanted you to know that I take from this writing, a clear sense (with one exception after reading what you wrote) that most agree that the decision should be changed, but that it isn't cut and dry and it isn't going to nor can it change over night. one last note i'd love to speak with you (off internet) about this as your article really made me happy to be among people like you that can think about an entire issue and not just take it in pieces.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this brilliant Blog. I have one suggestion for the BSA - push the issue back on the chartering organizations. The BSA would have it's non-discriminatory membership requirements, the religious chartering organization may limit their chatered units membership to reflect their own personal beliefs. Everyone wins. The BSA can then accept United Way funding, the Morman and Catholic churches can continue their ban. Other charter organizations can continue offering young men all the benefits of Scouting.

The Six-Fingered Monkey said...

This is incredible. Kevin shared this with me and I'm glad he did.

Dave McGrath said...

How patient do we have to be? Still waiting. In actuality, it is worse now than ever. What's a kid to do? False hope offered if they are open - but then they are out at age 18. It's worse.

My kids have almost aged out. That means the next opportunity for my family and BSA will be grandchildren. I'm a betting man - but I won't bet BSA will be fully inclusive by the time my grandchildren are old enough to enter the program.