September 12, 2012

Still wearing the uniform... for now. #BSA blog #leadership

It's important to allow yourself some distance from an emotional event before deciding how you feel about it. Two months may not be enough for this one. I'm still deeply disappointed and hurt by Boy Scouts of America's decision in July to reaffirm its policies of bigotry and discrimination.

This is not a new struggle for me. I work with gay colleagues, party with gay friends, and socialize with gay neighbors. I would be honored to go hiking and camping with gay scouters.

I won't get into the stupid back and forth about "gay people are people too" (duh) or "I know more divorced straights than still-married straights" (true) or "being gay isn't a lifestyle choice" (duh, true), or "the US military is more tolerant than BSA is" (hoo boy). Those points have been made and apparently hold no water at BSA headquarters in Irving, Texas.

Instead, I want to say the following.

Dear BSA,

As a trained Scout leader who has been a den leader, pack committee member, troop committee member, and Assistant Scoutmaster for nearly a decade, I have recited the Scout Oath and Scout Law countless times. I have worn the uniform in public, have recruited families and boys into the organization, have taken responsibility for the safety of other people's children in the wilderness. I have celebrated with boys I've helped achieve the rank of Eagle.

I take very seriously my role in helping the boys develop into mature, responsible young men with an understanding of leadership and an ethic of accountability. The beauty of the scouting program is its emphasis on coaching the boys into becoming effective leaders. Every aspect of the program pushes the boys toward self-reliance, leadership, integrity, and cooperation.

Unfortunately, the national board of directors of BSA has forgotten what leadership really is. Leadership is far more than simply being in charge.

Leadership is courage. Leadership is the ability to put one's own prejudices and fears aside in the pursuit of getting the most of every member of the unit, thereby getting the most from the unit. Leadership is accepting every boy as he is, and believing that every boy can become a strong leader if given the right tools, coaching, and examples. Leadership is empowering others to be better than they think they can be.

Leadership is not fearful or boastful. Leadership is not arbitrarily exercising power over others. Leadership is not cliquish or exclusionary. Leadership is not punitive or petty. Leadership is not compromising values for revenue. Leadership is not telling someone they are less than they really can be.

While a bully can be in charge, a true leader is never a bully.

Today, I am signing a change.org petition asking our council to denounce BSA's policies of discrimination. Even if you are not in the Mt. Diablo Silverado area, please sign this petition.

I want to continue to be a scout leader. I know I am a positive influence for the scouts, and my own two boys get a tremendous amount out of my participation. I can lead without discriminating. I can teach the boys to be accepting of others and inclusive in their own leadership. I can show them courage.

But every time I look at that uniform hanging in my closet, I see bigotry, fear, and prejudice. I know when I put that shirt on, when I slip the neckerchief around my collar, I am painting myself in the colors of hate. Even if I believe in the values of scouting--and I do--this one policy so recently and unapologetically reaffirmed by BSA contaminates me. I, too, am victimized by this decision.

I have not yet decided to abandon the uniform because I feel an obligation to the boys and the families in my troop. I like them all very much, and the scouting activities we do together are a lot of fun. I see the boys maturing year by year, and know I am helping them in their growth.

I have not yet decided to abandon the uniform, but I can feel that day coming.

5 comments:

Sarah Hina said...

Wonderful letter.

We pulled our son from scouting this year. Having only been involved a year (as a Tiger cub), it was not as difficult a decision. But it still hurt him. And me.

I applaud you, Peter. Whatever you decide, I know leadership when I see it.

Peter Dudley said...

Thank you, Sarah. That's a really nice thing to say. It would indeed have been easier to pull the boys out at the Tiger year.

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shona Snowden said...

Great letter. Hope many others also write. Can't believe their policy.

Peter Dudley said...

Thanks, Shona.