25 May 2013

The BSA Gets It Half-Right

I wasn't going to comment about the decision to allow openly gay boys to become Boy Scouts.  But I've found myself thinking about it, partly because--you guessed it--I was a Scout many, many years ago.

Now, before I talk about the decision, I'm going to share a little story.  I was a Scout for a year or two when the Boy Scouts of America decided to make some changes to the uniform.  Back in the old days, the standard uniform included a flat or "garrison" hat similar to the kind worn by soldiers in many countries.  But, the Boy Scouts' leadership decided to offer other kinds of headgear and allow troops and their leadership to choose.  One of the options was the old-style garrison hat; the others, as I recall, included a visored baseball-type cap (which seems to be what most Scouts wear today) and a red beret.  Most of the boys in my troop voted for the baseball cap, and our Scoutmaster seemed to like it, too.  It was all right but, as you may have guessed, I wanted to wear the red beret.

Anyway, having been a Scout, I can tell you that there have been gay scouts, most likely since the organization's founding.  Back then--and even during the time I was a Scout--one never heard of a boy (or, for that matter, a girl) "coming out" much before the age of twenty.  Matters of sexuality weren't widely discussed in those days; most kids' sexual education consisted of the "facts of life" talk from the parents.  Some kids didn't even get that.

But, of course, gay kids knew that they were somehow different.  Sometimes other kids knew, too, and taunted or even bullied them.  As bad as it could be, it usually wasn't as bad as the treatment the gay (or perceived-to-be-gay) kid got at school, in the community and, sometimes, at home.  Perhaps my view is colored by having had a Scoutmaster who didn't tolerate bullying.

I suspect there were, and are, others like him.  In addition to modeling good behavior, people like him are often the father-figures (or parents) many young people lack.  What about the gay kid who's been kicked out of his home and is living with other relatives--or some place else?  Doesn't he need at least one stable presence in his life?

Now, I haven't forgotten about the sex-abuse scandals that rocked the BSA.  While I'm sure that some men have become Scoutmasters because it gave them easy access to boys, I don't think they were in the majority.  (The same thing could be said about youth-league coaches.)  I think that far more scoutmasters, like the two I had, try to be the guides and role-models that too many young men lack.  

Having been through the sex-abuse scandals, and had to deal with declining membership for at least a decade and a half, the BSA is understandably worried about its image.  I think that might have been the reason why, while voting to allow gay Scouts, they also decided against allowing gay men to become Scoutmasters.  I suppose it was  the BSA's "compromise", or at least an attempt to mollify those parents who, rightly, worry about their kids' safety.  At least, I sort of hope that was their motivation.  Otherwise, they allowed their choice to be guided by a misplaced belief in a mistaken idea that had too long of a shelf life, so to speak.

In other words, if they weren't capitulating to pressure from vocal parents and church groups, BSA's leadership made a decision based on the notion that men who molest boys are gay.  Having been molested as a child--and having talked to others who were--I know how mistaken that notion is.  I know for a fact that one of my molesters never had sexual contact with any post-pubescent male, and was a married man.  I'm almost entirely certain that the other man who molested me also never had any interest in adult males.

But, the ban on gay Scoutmasters does gay Scouts a disservice for another reason.  Lots of boys--gay, straight and otherwise--join because it is one of the few structured environments in which they can be safe and validated. Think of that boy who joined when he was 12 or 13 and, a year or two later, realizes that he's gay. Imagine that he has no adult in his life with whom he can talk about it.  Don't you think that one of the best things that could happen to him would be for his scoutmaster to say, with complete honesty, "I know how you feel."

Now, I'm not saying that only a gay Scoutmaster can give a gay Scout the support he needs at a time like that.  I'm just saying that it's one situation in which a just-out gay kid needs an adult who is true to him or her self--in short, one with integrity.  Plus, if I'm not mistaken, the Scout Oath and Law both mention honesty.

So, the BSA got this issue half-right.  Perhaps one day they'll get it completely right.  

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