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An Open Letter to the BSA

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

I spent many years in scouting, beginning as a Cub Scout and continuing on in Boy Scouts until I was 17, a few badges shy of the rank of Eagle. I learned a lot from your organization, and at certain points in my rather painful teenage years, the Boy Scouts were my primary social group, the one place I could go to feel accepted.

Let me stress that point. The most important aspect of Scouting, for me, was that sense of acceptance.

So you might wonder why I dropped out. There were two reasons.

  1. Disillusionment with our local adult leaders, who seemed more interested in power than in creating good experiences for the kids.
  2. The Boy Scouts’ ongoing discrimination against homosexuals.

The former is something that happens anywhere. These are volunteer positions, and while some of the leaders were awesome, some were not. There will always be petty, power-hungry people who try to carve out little kingdoms for themselves in any organization.

The latter, on the other hand… Well, back in 1991 when I was dropping out, Parvin L. Bishop, National Director of Program of the BSA, was in court explaining that:

“…the requirements that a scout be ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean’ are inconsistent with homosexuality, and therefore known or avowed homosexuals or those who advocate to scouting youth that homosexual conduct is morally straight or clean, will not be registered as adult leaders.”

My response as a 17-year-old boy was something along the lines of, “Go to hell.”

That was 20 years ago, but it doesn’t look like things have changed. In 2009, after rejecting a lesbian couple from volunteering as Cub Scout leaders, Richard Stockton, Scout executive for the Green Mountain Council explained, “The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don’t accept gays and lesbians as volunteers.”

My response to your discriminatory policies, 20 years later, is likewise unchanged.

This has created a dilemma for me. You see, my son heard about the local Cub Scout pack at his school’s open house, looked at the activities they did, and wanted to join.

My son is autistic, and my wife and I are working hard to find opportunities for him to socialize with other kids and improve those skills. I remember how much scouting gave to me as a child, and I suspect it would be just as helpful for my son, if not more so. And this is what he wants.

A six-year-old won’t understand that his father is uncomfortable with the organization he wants to join because the people who run that organization are engaging in their constitutionally-protected right to be bigoted douchebags. (I’m paraphrasing the court decision here a little bit.)

On the other hand, in signing him up for Cub Scouts, I’m writing a check to an organization that believes many of my friends and loved ones are unclean and immoral. I’m supporting an organization that actively discriminates against them.

As angry as I am at you for putting me into that position, I’m even more pissed at what you’re doing to your members. When I sat in on the local pack meeting a few weeks back, I found myself wondering how many of these kids would grow up and realize that they aren’t, in fact, heterosexual. At which point they’ll find that the organization they’ve been a part of for so many years is ready and eager to condemn them, and to turn its back on them.

In the end, we signed my son up and wrote the check. He wants to be a Cub Scout like his cousin, and I don’t feel okay with letting my beliefs stand in the way of that. My own conflicts aside, I think this will be a good experience for him. He’s enjoying it so far, and apparently made a bit of a splash at his last meeting when he explained what justice was by likening it to the Justice League of America.

I don’t know if this was the right decision. But I do know that for every check we write to the BSA, I plan to write a matching check to an organization that works to end discrimination against homosexuals. (Suggestions welcome.)

According to the supreme court, you have the right to discriminate. Just as I have the right to speak out against that discrimination, and to limit my support of your organization until you change those policies.

Actually, speaking out against your policies feels more like a duty, one based on things like loyalty to my friends and loved ones; trying to help other people who have been victims of your bigotry; and following my own moral principals.

You know, things I learned in Scouting.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 105 comments — Leave a comment )
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filkertom
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:36 pm (UTC)
Oh the hell yeah. I was a Cub and Webelos, and proud, but I didn't catch any of those undertones when I was a kid. My nephew, on the other hand, is now a Cub, and I daren't say anything to avoid getting into a row with my sister, who is pretty damn progressive herself and I guess is overlooking that aspect of BSA as long as it's not front-and-center. We'll see.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:40 pm (UTC)
I don't know what the right answer is. I'm hopeful that as more organizations pull their support for the Boy Scouts, they'll realize that continuing to discriminate is a losing proposition. (Sometimes money speaks, even when morals fail.)

In prepping this post, I came across articles about communities and organizations rescinding tens of thousands of dollars over this. I read one story describing the hundreds of Eagle Scouts who have mailed in their badges as a form of protest. It gives me some hope ... but in the meantime, it really pisses me off to be put in this position.
(no subject) - midnightblooms - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
brainstormfront
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:40 pm (UTC)
Have I told you you're brilliant this week, Jim?

Done and done.

Steven

PS: Remind me to tell you sometime of my BSA story involving state troopers and a motorcycle gang. Amusing still after 27 years.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
What if I want storytime NOW?
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
I suspect a lot of the reason for their attitudes are founded in money, and in the prejudices of some of their financial backers. I'm hoping that as they continue to *lose* donations and money from other groups over these policies, that maybe this will help them to turn things around.
(no subject) - sageautumn - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathshaffer
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow. That IS a dilemma. We went through much the same thing over our years of involvement with Cub and Boy Scouting. It was a great experience for our son, but we're disgusted by the organization's discrimination against not only gays, but now, new and improved fat discrimination. Did you know that my husband is too disgustingly obese to be allowed on high adventure boy scout trips (even if his doctor clears him), because if he injures himself, it would put others at risk to haul his disgusting, 220 lb carcass out of the wilderness? Still and all, the folks in our local scout groups have been outstanding, and because this is Ann Arbor, the local troops are welcoming of homosexuals. My son dropped out this year due to schedule conflicts, which is in some ways a relief and in some ways sad because there were some really great experiences for him.

I will say that we had a lot of conversations at home with our son about this subject and how deeply we disagree with BSA about it, so there's that.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
Wait, what? I hadn't heard anything about people being forbidden from coming on certain trips or events due to their weight. I ... wait, what???

I remember the First Aid and Emergency Preparedness badges. Have they updated those lessons to teach kids that they should always be prepared to come to the aid of those in need, so long as the injured parties fall within a certain BMI range?

WTF?

If Jackson continues in scouting, I suspect we'll have some of those conversations too. Right now though, I don't think it would be fair to him.
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amy34 - Oct. 19th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Oct. 19th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
mrissa
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC)
My grandpa was active in Scouts for over seventy years. But when he died, he asked that any charitable donations in his name be made to individual troops, not the national organization, because there is so very much that is so very very wrong with the national organization.

I hate that they put him in that position, too.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I just ... yeah.

As I was writing this post, I did some research into the Girl Scouts and their policies. I really just want to point and say, "They figured it out a while ago. Why can't you?"
(no subject) - mrissa - Oct. 19th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Oct. 19th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pantryslut - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cereta - Oct. 20th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
jhetley
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
My experience with Scouting, back in the Jurassic, was that they weren't all that open and accepting of kids who were "straight" but different. Same kids who were bullies in school were tolerated as bullies in Scouts.

And neither of our sons stuck with Scouting. They didn't fit in . . .
shashalnikya
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that. It's always like that when groups of boys are gathered together and the leaders think bullying is a way to toughen a kid up.
(no subject) - jhetley - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberranteyes - Oct. 19th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
controuble
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
I think you have come up with an excellent compromise. I wish I could think of a suitable donee (is that even a word?)

troubles_son was in Cub Scouts, but when he was old enough to move up to Boy Scouts, he was not mature enough due to his ASD. The scout troops around here are way too large for him to be comfortable. Den meetings were all right since the den was only 8 or 9 boys, but pack meetings were a nightmare - good thing they were only once a month. Scout troops are supposed to be run by the boys with support from the adults and while he is doing much better, he is still way too immature. You might be able to meet him at WindyCon since he is living at home now, he will be coming along.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
I'm not happy about having to compromise, but this was the best answer we were able to come up with.

So far, Jackson seems to be doing okay, though he's having attention issues at the meetings. (For similar reasons.) I suspect we'll run into some of the same thing with den meetings vs. the larger and less active pack meetings.

We'll see how it goes.
shashalnikya
Oct. 19th, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of mixed feelings about scouts. On the one hand, it's something that was fun and allowed me to go on cool camping trips, learn how to survive in the woods, and make friends (sometimes). On the other hand, it was a way for my dad to try to make me into a man (didn't take, oops) and yet another opportunity for other kids to make my life miserable.

It's kind of sad to me that, as a Cub Scout who grew up to be a woman, the old organization would surely turn its back on me now. Still, I can always hope they'll change, given enough time.

Good luck with it. I hope your son is happy there! I can give useful suggestions on how to build a Pinewood Derby car (3-time champ here)!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - shashalnikya - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jhetley - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - las - Oct. 19th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - genarti - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Oct. 19th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - telophase - Oct. 19th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 23rd, 2011 02:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarentine - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chomiji - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gehayi - Oct. 20th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - telophase - Oct. 19th, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
huskiebear
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
Just a suggestion for your counter donation: glsen.org I have no direct knowledge of the organization, but I keep hearing good things about what they do. (Hey, Dan Savage promotes them! They must be doing something right!)
deliasherman
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:16 pm (UTC)
Human Rights Campaign is a good organization, and has been around long enough to have some real political clout.
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 19th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Oct. 19th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
An opposing view - kshandra - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
fjm
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
Offer to be a cub leader.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:52 pm (UTC)
Even if I had the time, it sounds like I wouldn't be accepted according to the "those who advocate to scouting youth that homosexual conduct is morally straight or clean, will not be registered as adult leaders" bit.
jeriendhal
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your dilemma. My own experience with the BSA was ambivalent. I just wasn't interested in outdoor activities or Being Part of the Group. On the other hand the adult leaders were good (and the idea of old Scoutmaster Winters kicking a kid out over their sexuality is impossible to imagine, national organization be damned.)

I won't, however, permit my son to join the organization these days. Like yours, he's autistic (and I'm guessing more severely impaired than yours) and when prejudice in one area is openly encouraged, other kinds are often tolerated. I wouldn't want him to be subject to that, or gain the idea it's ever permissible.

That's only my opinion though. If you trust the leaders of your local pack, and think your son will get something out of it, more power to you both.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
So far, the den has been open and accepting of him. My wife talked to the den leader, who's aware of his autism. In that respect, they seem to be doing fine.

I don't know, and we'll definitely be watching things closely to see what happens and how things progress.
prisoner__24601
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. This is a dilemma that I've had with my own son who is in his second year of boy scouts. A year ago when he asked to join and was really excited about it, I had a hard time letting him join. Honestly, I didn't know what to do. I was (and to a large part still am) deeply uncomfortable about allowing my son to become part of an organization that has a despicable discrimination policy. Then again, cub scouts can be a fantastic experience and I really had no idea how to explain to my son why he couldn't have them, because at seven years old, I really don't think he'd understand.

In the end, I let him join for a lot of the same reasons you signed your own son up. On the whole, I'm glad I did, although I still don't know if it was the right thing to do. There are a lot of good things that the boy scouts teach and do, and he has had an absolutely fantastic experience so far. We'll see how he fares when he gets older. Hopefully by then, the BSA will have pulled their heads out of their asses and it won't be an issue.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
That sounds very much like what I've been struggling with. What I'm still struggling with, really. And like you, I still don't know if this was the right decision.

I know he's having fun. I know it's given us some opportunities for learning, and for working on things at home. But in the long run, I don't know.

It's a crappy position to be in for a parent, regardless of what they decide...
celli
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
Man, that's a tough call, and I hope it works out for your son. I think your equal donation idea is fantastic. I'm a big fan of the Trevor Project, but there are tons of great charities out there, I'm sure you'll find something good.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I appreciate the suggestion, and will check it out.
adelheid_p
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
As a parent of a now 25 year old young woman, I somewhat understand your dilemma. While I didn't have the same challenge, I think that you weighed the benefits and his age against your beliefs and made a reasonably good decision. When he gets old enough to understand and make a decision for himself, I advise that you talk to him about the beliefs of the organization and then let him decide if he wishes to continue. If you let this be a teaching experience both ways, then I think it's a win. And I applaud your decision to offset this by making a matching donation to a LGTB supporting organization. I only wish that there was an alternative organization so that you didn't have to take this approach.
My husband did reach Eagle scout but as an atheist and supporter of homosexual rights, he is none too happy with the BSA. He probably wouldn't be permitted to be a scoutmaster (if he was inclined) today due to his "religious" beliefs.
jimhines
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC)
I'm not aware of any alternative organizations, but a few people have made suggestions that I'll look into.

And yeah. When an organization is turning away good, qualified volunteers, especially those like your husband who has so much experience ... something's very, very wrong here.
(no subject) - kshandra - Oct. 19th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
temporus
Oct. 19th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
Jim, I have maybe another year or two before I face this same sort of dilemma.

I'm an Eagle Scout. I can still, 23 years later, recite the Oath, the Law, the Motto from memory. Both my older brothers are also Eagle Scouts. I have many great memories of my time involved in Scouting, and I know many of the most important lessons in life I have learned came through the good Leaders I was fortunate to have met throughout those years. Yet, I often feel embarrassed to even admit that I am an Eagle Scout. I feel that the organization's continued stance of bigotry and discrimination have tainted the hard work and efforts I made.

I'm blessed with two young sons. I would enjoy nothing more than to share with them the experience of Scouting, something that definitely helped me become the person I am today. Ironically, it is Scouting and the lessons I learned from it which currently now make me reject that same organization. I am currently researching other Scout organizations (like Adventure Scouts http://adventurescoutsusa.org/), to see if I can't find a place that will allow me to share that Scout experience with my sons, without feeling that I have to compromise on *my morals*.

I wish you and Jackson the best of luck. This is a tricky needle to thread, and I pray that the organization eventually comes to the conclusion that they are in the wrong on this issue, and will amend their policies and practices accordingly.
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