Scouting for Equality

Our son started first grade this year, and we received the following unsolicited email as the school year started (I’ve edited the email only for anonymity):

Dear parents of incoming first grade boys,

We hope you are enjoying your summer. As it starts to draw to a close, we wanted to send out information about the start of activities for our Cub Scout Pack this year in case your boy is interested in joining.

Our first pack meeting will be on Wednesday.  For new Tiger Cubs (1st grade) there will be a parents’ orientation starting at 6:30 PM. The main meeting for all cubs will start at 7:00 and go until 8:00 or 8:15.

We will also have a pack-sponsored trip, likely to the Boston Harbor Islands later in September, along with many other activities (like hikes, camping trips. Pinewood Derby, etc.) throughout the year.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me, our Cubmaster, or just show up at the meeting on Wednesday.

Have a great end of the summer.

Given the national position of the Boy Scouts of America on families like ours, this email obviously produced some conflict in our household.  On the one hand, BSA does terrific things for young men, and I consistently see evidence of that in our community.  Our son is a great kid, full of energy, and that energy needs a positive outlet with rigid structures and lots of physical activity.  He’ll be growing up in a house that in many ways does not conform to typical family gender roles, and experiencing the more positive aspects of the all-male hierarchy of the BSA might help him balance out his personal experiences with the larger dominant social landscape.

And a lot of his friends are doing it.

Then of course there’s the elephant in the campsite.  How can we send our son into an organization that actively excludes his parents?  What message are we sending if we say, ignore that one bad aspect and embrace everything else?

I knew from friends in town that our local BSA organization had an extremely open nondiscrimination policy.  Still, even if it’s in name only, doesn’t the local organization lend credence and support to the national organization?  I reached out to the local leaders to find out more.  I sent the following email:

Thanks for the email about Cub Scouts.

I’m curious if you can tell me more about the specifics of how the local organization supports the national.  We are a married two dad family, and I am incredibly hesitant about letting our son participate in an organization that is so vocally and explicitly against our family composition.  I understand that the local chapters don’t follow the same anti-gay guidelines of the national organization, but I wonder what type of support, financial and otherwise, the local chapters provide for the national.

Thanks for your time.

Here is part of what I received in response:

I’m happy to share what I know with you. In terms of financial support, some portion of the dues each scout pays goes to the pack, some to the regional council, and I assume some to the national organization. I believe the same holds true for popcorn sales that comprise (I believe) the largest single component of our pack’s annual budget. I don’t know the percentages but could query the council for you if you want.

Our pack has a non-discrimination policy which was adapted from that of the Boston Minuteman Council:

Non-Discrimination Policy

The mission of the Boston Minuteman Council, Boy Scouts of America and [our local Pack] is to provide character development, citizenship training, growth in physical and mental fitness, and leadership opportunities for the young people of the Boston metropolitan area. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our members, and we are committed to providing young people with an educational and stimulating environment in which to learn and grow. Through the Scout Oath and Law, we pledge to respect all people and to defend the rights of others. Bias, intolerance, and unlawful discrimination are unacceptable within the ranks of the Boston Minuteman Council and [the local Pack].   The Boston Minuteman Council serves over 18,000 youth through 3,300 volunteers in over 330 Packs, Troops, and other units without regard to color, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or economic status.

Adopted July 19, 2001.

The dad who responded to me went on to explain on a personal level, speaking no longer as a leader of the pack, how he had concerns about representing a national organization that discriminates against members of our community and the nation, and that he and his wife had discussed the national policy with their children and had continued discussions about discrimination.  He admitted to continually wrestling with the decision, but in the end his family had decided that participation in the local organization made sense given the many good aspects of scouting that exist outside the discrimination, so long as the local chapter clearly opposed the national’s policies and he and his wife continued to have conversations about the issue with their children.

I appreciate the perspective and the honest, and I have friends that have chosen the same path for their boys.  It’s hard to begrudge them when I’m sure I make similar choices in my own life with my kids, feigning ignorance or truly living within it because it’s easier than working against it.  Still, this one is so glaringly obvious given the prominence in the national news and the sheer number of young men these policies touch.  And of course I don’t think young men in our country need more reason to oppose homosexuals; I think we’re doing a pretty good job of implicitly teaching them that it’s just about the worst thing a young man can become without spelling it out for them.

It’s just so complicated.  I have friends who adamantly oppose all things Disney because of the way they subjugate women and minorities for a quick dollar, and to a certain extent, I know that I’m taking the same position as this BSA dad in saying that it’s okay that we let our kids watch the movies and go to the theme parks because we talk about the oppression represented by juggernaut that is Mickey Mouse.  Still, I can’t help but feeling there’s a difference between the implicit racism and sexism that occurs as a result of the white privilege that allows the leaders of major corporations to operate in an artificial obliviousness and the overt discriminatory exclusion of an entire class of people that occurs with blanket edicts like those of the BSA.  Isn’t sending your kids to the join the BSA because the opportunities are so great for character building a little like the men who played at Augusta prior to 2012 because it’s a really great golf course?

I had a parallel experience in my school’s library a few weeks ago.  I had taken my students down to pick an independent reading book, and one of the kids asked if I had read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card because he heard it was good and thought he’d like it.  I had to tell the student that I had never read anything by that man and never would since he was so vocally opposed to my family’s right to exist.  (Card published an essay a few years ago in which he says he viewed any government that recognized same-sex marriage as a “mortal enemy” and shortly thereafter he joined the board of directors for the National Organization for Marriage, a position he has since left.)  The librarian, who was standing nearby, muttered to us, “It’s a shame he’s such a despicable human being because his books are really good,” as she pulled the book off the shelf and handed it to the student.

I realize I teach works in my classes that are clearly racist and sexist, and addressing these issues is always part of my instruction.  Something inside me balks at the idea though of purchasing a text–even one that really doesn’t have a lot to do with overt homophobia–in support of an author who has essentially publicly announced that he will use the money he earns off of that purchase to destroy my family and deprive me of my civil rights.  It’s the same reason we no longer buy Barilla pasta or eat at Chick-fil-A.  (Okay, who am I kidding?  I never ate at Chick-fil-A.)  Even in in instances like the latter where Chick-fil-A Dan Cathy is pressured to quiet his rhetoric and no longer use his company’s money to fight against marriage equality, the money spent on a friend chicken sandwich inevitably pays Cathy’s salary and I’m sure he uses his personal salary to fund the good Christian fight against the deluge of same-sex marriage flooding our country.

In the anti-racism courses I lead for teachers, we often say, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.”  There are injustices all around us every day, and most of us couldn’t function in a healthy way if we spent our every waking many searching them out, but when we’re confronted with inequity, bias, and discrimination head on, how we respond certainly must be a test of our character, especially when our addressing it is inconvenient.

The Loss of a Fantasy

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated my blog.  The summer was a whirlwind of excitement for our family, and the transition into the new school year is always frenetic.  My list of potential blog topics is a mile long: watching old movie musicals with the kids this summer and discussing the demeaning characterization of people of color; confronting the local Boy Scouts organization about their patronage of the incredibly homophobic national organization; internalizing the continued insanity that is our country’s legalized murder of unarmed black men in Missouri this summer…the list goes on and on and I’m sure I’ll get to each of them in due time.  Tonight however, we were dealt a new blow and I’m wondering how we’ll work this one out.

Last May, our daughter made a Mother’s Day gift for her birthmom in school.  I wrote a little something about her experiences here.  We didn’t get around to mailing it until the end of August though.  Our daughter has a pretty limited interaction with her birthmom.  We have a PO Box in another town where her mom can send cards and the occasional gift, and we sadly typically only hear from her when she’s incarcerated, which is far more often than anyone would like.  The birthmom’s mother has always been a bit more consistent with her cards and letters, sending items a few times a year and always sending Christmas and birthday gifts.  It’s through this maternal grandmother that we typically reach out to our daughter’s mom, sending letters and photos a few times a year, and last month, we took our daughter to the post office so she could mail her Mother’s Day gift to her mom care of her grandmother.

We only check the PO Box a half dozen times a year, and tonight my husband picked up the mail.  The package we mailed in August had been returned, marked “deceased.”  A quick Google search showed that our daughter’s grandma had in fact passed away in mid-August.

Now we have to find a way to explain this to a little girl, nearly eight years old, who finds tremendous joys in receiving letters from her grandma.  She actually talks about her mom and grandma often, saying how much she loves them and how she wishes we could all be together.  We’ve always held out the hope that someday a meeting might be possible, and I myself am pretty devastated that it won’t ever happen.

Our daughter is typically a pretty happy person, but she’s moved to tremendous tears when confronted with the type of things that make most adults swoon.  When we broke the news that a dear friend’s dog has passed away, a dog she only saw a few times a year but that she loved to play with during our visits, she cried for nearly half an hour.  I know she’s going to take the news of her grandmother’s dead particularly hard, and as she grows and matures she will grapple with the realization that this death represents a pretty significant loss–the loss of a loved one, the loss of a genetic connection, the loss of an opportunity.

We’ll try to reach out to our daughter’s birthmom; perhaps the funeral home where the services were held will have a current address, but I worry that she hasn’t reached out to us for quite some time now, even though her correspondence while she was in prison was always fairly positive and promising.  In the mean time, my husband and I will find a day soon when we can break this news to our daughter and help her work through some incredibly complicated feelings that would be difficult for someone three times her age to endure.  Through my web search, I found the site of grandma’s burial.  I imagine we’ll tell her what little we know, and offer to drive her to the grave site where she can say goodbye, both to the woman and the dream.  Maybe this can become one of our new family traditions, placing flowers on a headstone for a woman who we never had the chance to truly know but who each of loves in a very unique way.  Until we can do this though, we’ll have to maintain the status quo, feigning the ignorance that was our reality until today.