October 12, 2012

The uniform comes off: @BoyScouts and @bsamdsc, you got this WRONG.

Sometimes an event happens that clarifies a difficult, murky situation. Such an event happened today. I got an email. That in itself is not unusual. This email came from our local Boy Scouts council leadership. That is a little unusual, but not terribly. But when I received this particular email, I swear I could actually hear that other shoe hitting the floor.

My last blog post was about BSA's national anti-gay policy. That post focused on the meaning of leadership. How can BSA profess to teach young men to become effective leaders when they're saying that roughly one in every ten boys (or one in every twenty-five, depending on which experts you believe) need to be excluded?

I think BSA's policy is morally wrong, ethically wrong, and also wrong-headed. It's ass backwards from a leadership perspective, from an American perspective, and from a management perspective. Why are gays excluded? Gay does not equal pedophile. Gay equals gay. Pedophile equals pedophile. BSA's history is littered with documented cases of covered-up child molestation. The anti-gay policy didn't do any good then in protecting the boys. Only in the past few years has BSA put in place strong policies to protect boys from predators, including background checks, biannual youth protection training, no solitary one-on-one contact, etc. Had those policies been in place, policies that protect against pedophiles, then maybe that abuse could have been prevented.

But that's not my point. My point is the email I got today. You may have read about that boy in a town nearby who is a shining example of all things Boy Scouts. Oh, wait, sorry. There's this one thing. He's openly gay. And for that, he was denied his Eagle rank, for which he accomplished all the requirements. The Scoutmaster of his troop refused to sign off on the boy's excellent Eagle project. And now, in this email I've received, the Council stands behind the Scoutmaster's decision.

I've heard this argument made before. We were just following orders. People might disagree about the policy, but there's nothing we can do. Our hands our tied. It was a "good faith" effort. (Which is an odd use of the phrase here since faith (in the religious sense) is typically correlated with gay discrimination (see: reasons Prop 8 passed).)

Anyway, this email hit my inbox hard. I'd imagined the policy to be a result of BSA being headquartered in Texas. Everyone in California knows that Texas is a wacko tea party Bible Belt kind of place, right? That could never actually happen in the Bay Area. (Ooh! Ironic prejudice alert!)

Well, it did. It happened here. In my own council. And they aren't standing up for the scout. They're backing the adult leader. Which is what has happened for decades. Too bad for the 17 year old boy who did everything right and trusted the adults around him. Too bad they are kicking him to the curb. But the adults, they made a good faith effort, you know?

No more for me. I cannot wear the uniform any longer. I cannot hold an official position in the BSA organization, no matter how puny and insignificant my role as Assistant Scoutmaster of a troop of 35 boys is. When a boy as courageous and upstanding and model as that boy is (according to what I've read... I do not know the family personally) is crushed just for being who he is, it's wrong. As an organization, we should be celebrating his leadership and accomplishments. As a society, we should be congratulating him for overcoming the bullying he's experienced.

In Michigan, an unpopular girl is made fun of by her peers, and she gets a huge rally of support from her community. This boy accomplishes all he has done, and the adults around him tsk-tsk and suppress him further, rallying around the poor Scoutmaster who was put "in a difficult position."

It's all so backwards and wrong. It makes me really sad. Shame on you, BSA. Shame on you, Mount Diablo Silverado Council. I know you will grow up and change one day. But today? Today's a bad day.


Bob Palin said...

Good for you Peter, no matter how much you enjoy something sometimes principles have to be upheld. Your blog entry spells out the problem in the clearest terms I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Well said Peter. The GLBTI community experience so much hate from society in general, the last thing these kids need is trusted adults reinforcing it.
PFLAG Spokesperson
Capital Region - Australia

pacatrue said...

Tough decisions and I admire your ability to express them so well. It could be helpful to write of this decision to the people who made the decision. You never know. It's possible that one of those three names is thinking the same thing as you and just needs one more nudge. You never know.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I know this has been a difficult and painful journey for you. I hope that you and at least some of the boys continue to spend time together. It might be good for them to know you still care about them no matter your personal decision. Institutionalized discrimination sucks in whatever form it takes and we're seeing it in many forms these days.

PJD said...

Bob: Thank you. It hasn't felt clear to me in a long time. It's a lot more clear now, so I'm glad I was able to convey that.

Anonymous Jo: Thanks for your comment. I deeply appreciate it.

Pacatrue: While I don't think one more nudge is what they need, perhaps if they read this they'll see how they've picked the adult over the boy, and it will help them think differently. I don't know any of those three people personally.

Sarah: Thanks for your support. What's remarkable is that, in hindsight I see that so many of my gay and lesbian friends have given me space on this issue, not pressured me to leave Scouts. (Some straight friends have been far more critical.) They've shown a graciousness that BSA has not, And they didn't have to. I am grateful for that personal support.

Unknown said...

The only way I can see it changing is if good people like you, who believe on the mission of the scouts, create an inclusive alternative. Not easy, but the BSA started once, too.

Joni said...

I really appreciate your standards and the driving principles behind them. As a Mormon, this issue has been a difficult one for me and many of my friends to navigate. The Mormon church received a lot of attention when it encouraged its California members to vote for Prop 8. Our church uses the definition of marriage between a man and a woman as the only one that God accepts, and condemns any sexual activity outside of marriage. This has been hard for me, as I have many gay friends, some of whom have felt very ostracized by church members, and I guess I can't figure out exactly what it is God wants them to. A dear friend of mine, whose faith is very important to him, has chosen to be alone and celibate for his whole life. It's a decision I find difficult to fathom.

The Mormon church also incorporates the Boy Scout program into its youth program. All boys in the church are expected to be Scouts, so it's an organization I'm also quite familiar with. You don't have to be a Scout, but if you show up to youth activities, you will often be working towards merit badges and the church organizes special camps so that everyone can attain Eagle, if that is their goal, through church programs.

I am glad for the gradual changes I've seen within the attitudes of members of my church. Homosexuality is slowly becoming more understood, and therefore more accepted. My opinion is that people within a church who been have taught that God loves every individual on the earth as His own child should treat them as such. A child of God.

I am sad for the individual in question who is being withheld from receiving his Eagle award. It's just not fair. I guess all this is a round about way of saying that this is something I feel particularly sensitive to, having an organization you love stick with a policy that doesn't make sense to you. I'm sorry you will be giving up Boy Scouts, as I know it's been such a treasured experience for you. But I appreciate your dedication to your beliefs, and honor you for standing up for them through your actions. It is people like you who will change the world for the better.

PJD said...

Adam: If only I had the time for such an undertaking. I can't imagine how much work it would be to start a competitor to BSA. But there is an appetite for it, that's for sure.

Joni: I really appreciate your articulate and measured response. I was raised outside any faith, so there are a lot of things that baffle me about the biggest religions and the frequent disconnects between message and action. It befuddles me how an organization can have such a diversity of members and yet be so intolerant of certain groups of people.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your well thoughtout comments. I wanted you to know that despite being a Den leader for my son' cub scouts for the past couple years, I have just resigned from the BSA becuase of their policies and actions.

I know when I wear the BSA uniform with the MDSC emblem on the shoulder in the community I am sending a signal indicating that I support the BSA policies and MDSC's actions -- which I adamantly don't support.

Knowing that I can be a positive influence for my son and the other scouts makes this a very difficult decision. I feel an obligation to the boys of our Pack (1776) and Den and their families. But I will not be a part of an organization that actively and publicly participates in discrimination against others in our community. I see that type of behavior as morally wrong, not morally straight as the Scout Oath implies.

My son has decided that he also does not want to be a member of a group that discriminates and bullies others and has decided that he will not continue with scouting.

I have sent letters to Wayne Brock (Chief Scout, BSA), the BSA Board of Directors, John Fenoglio (MDSC), the MDSC Board of Directors. Hopefully they will listen to what I have to say.

If/when they change their policies and actions I might reconsider my partispation in BSA.

PJD said...

Brent: Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, with over 40% of the scouts in BSA tied directly to the Mormon and Catholic churches which espouse a similar bigotry, I fear that our departure will only hurt the local kids and won't do much to change the policy at the national level. Still, I can't represent the organization anymore. It makes me sad every time I think about it.