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.

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One thought on “Scouting for Equality

  1. It is so very complicated isn’t it? I think all of us have battles to pick; there are so many to fight. I went to Disney this summer and White Princess’ed out because my daughter never dreamed she would go, but despite her earnest requests to go, I will go out of my way not to go to Chik fi A or eat it even when it’s free. It is a tough dilemma for you and your family regarding the BSA. I look forward to hearing how you decide to navigate it. All the best.

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