Friday, May 02, 2014

The Problem With Taking Half a Step Forward...

When the  Boy Scouts of America  made its first small step into the  21rst  Century with changes to membership policies  regarding  Gay Youth  in  the program, many people  (myself included) applauded  the change.  Yet  people familiar  with  the  structure of Scouting immediately saw  a problem.  How  Scouting defines who is a  "youth member" of the program.

The issue is that various parts of the Scouting program define "youth" and "adult" differently. In Boy Scouting, you are a youth member until you turn 18. Yet the Exploring and Venture Scout programs define a youth member as under the age of 21.

 Also the Boy Scout's Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow also defines youth members to be under the age of 21. This clearly becomes an issue when one part of the BSA considers you to be a youth, while another says you are an adult.   So it was just a matter of time until this contradiction would surface in the area of Summer Camp Staffing. 

The majority of Boy Scout camp staff are in High School and College, and under the age of 21. Yet if you are Gay, and over the age of 18,  you are not not eligible to be in Boy Scouting.  BUT,  if you are still  under 21, you are still "legal" to be a involved in other parts of the Scouting program, like Exploring, and Venture Scouts.  This contradiction becomes a big issue when you want to work on a BSA Summer camp staff.  MSNBC  picks up the story..

Scout Camp Staff - 1991
I worked on Boy Scout  Camp Staff pretty much every Summer from age 16 until after I graduated from  University. On all the staffs I worked on, there were people who talked about their wives and girlfriends pretty much constantly. There were staff members who worked at camp with their wives and girlfriends. I have friends who met their future wives and husbands while working at Scout Camp.  There were more than a few staffers who even who dated girls from the local community. 

All of that is a non-issue for the BSA. Yet this kid mentioning on Facebook that he was dating someone, and then someone else asking "what's his name?", that according to the BSA,  is somehow bringing homosexuality into Scouting.   Really?

The problem with taking half-steps forward,  is they invariably cause you to stumble.  By trying to change, yet not change, their problematic membership policies, the BSA has created a whole set of new problems for itself.  When the current policy change went into effect, I remember a conversation  with a friend of mine, where  I mentioned the risk that this half-measure might create a "witch hunt" mentality among people uncomfortable with change.   Resulting in instances where people  specifically target youth who fall into this odd age loophole.

So the fact that the local Scouting organization, (or someone connected with it) , where Garrett Bryant lives was digging through this young man's Facebook profile is pathetic, disturbing and sadly not surprising. By leaving bigotry half-in place the BSA has sent a message that it is still acceptable to discriminate against people, as long as they are over the age of 18.     I fear the situation  that  Garrett Bryant finds himself in will happen to more and more young men in Scouting as they turn 18 but are still able to be  active  "youth" members in various parts of the Scouting Program.  

As long as the BSA  keeps taking only  half-steps towards dealing with discrimination, Scouting as whole will continue to stumble.

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