09 February 2013

Scouting's Quest for Identity - The Gay Ban

Often, I wear lapel pins with the insignia of the Boy Scouts of America. One of my latest is a 45 year service pin.

Yeah, Scouting has been a big part of my life. And Scouting remains one of the most powerful and positive forces for youth in America and the world.

Scouting has suffered from a degenerating public image over the past two decades. Most prominent in this deterioration has been the policy of excluding homosexuals from leadership and then from youth membership.

Incidentally let me say at the outset: That gay ban policy by the BSA is stupid.  It directly contradicts Scouting values.

The public perception of a deterioration did not happen in a vacuum. It started with poor substantive judgment. It continued with memorably poor performance in communication. For some unfathomable reason, the national leadership of the BSA strayed dangerously into the realm of politics.

And the national organization was not very good at it.

In the meantime, the many Scouting volunteers working directly with youth just continued to do their jobs and continued to share Scouting skills and Scouting values with kids who need them desperately.

The national board of the Boy Scouts of America consists of about 70 members. That membership has changed in recent years, and now is considering modifying or deleting the gay ban.

Incidentally, some object to the term “gay ban” because it does not focus on saying positively what the organization promotes. But if you are isolating particular youth from this magical learning experience available in Scouting secondary to irrelevant reasons, it is still a damn ban no matter what weasel words you want to use.

As the national BSA is struggling, everyone on the outside is weighing in. Editorials spout political support (seldom support for what Scouting really does) or abuse (again without reference to what Scouting really does.) President Obama has said his piece. The president of the United States always has been the “honorary president” of the Boy Scouts of America. So far, Obama hasn’t seemed to pay a whole lot of attention to that role. We’re hearing condemnations about the lack of resolution and constancy on the one hand or the lack of instant retraction and remorse on the other.

What Scouting needs, and what the youth Scouting serves need and deserve, is the room and time to conduct a self-examination. We need to apply OUR values to ourselves. Nobody else can do it.

We cannot expect detractors to be silent. We might hope for that, but it’s not realistic. This is America and that inconvenient old First Amendment encourages all kinds of obnoxious and intrusive speech.

And yet what we in Scouting need to do is shut out all of those voices and resolve this dissonance as Scouts according to our own system of values.

Scouting is unique. What was created in England by Baden- Powell, then came to America and spread to the world, caught fire with youth everywhere it went.

Here, kids had a program which taught outdoor skills and self-reliance. Here they had a program largely directed by themselves where they moved steadily into positions of greater and greater responsibility. These kids became active. They were doing things, not just listening and being told about what they may do in the future if they were good little boys and girls.

One of the most important aspects of Scouting is advancement and recognition by fixed achievement standards. Scouting is not based on competition. Scouting does not require that there be 10 losers for every winner. To advance, to meet the universal goal of “every Scout a first-class Scout,” every kid meets the same requirements. And every kid who meets those requirements is recognized for the accomplishment. Every kid can be a winner.

For that matter, every kid is a winner, we in this society just never get around to telling some of them.

We don’t know where this attention to gays within the organization came from. Every organization involved with youth has to be aware of hidden victimizers in society. This applies with every church, scout troop, school and choir.

The BSA takes child safety totally seriously. There is not an atmosphere of suspicion but certainly one of awareness and protection. In the times I’ve been an administrative officer in the movement, I have only once run into an instance of abuse. And we reported that and I’m happy to say that the offender went to prison.

But the child safety issue is not the gay ban issue. To all of my heterosexual friends: Are you likely to target youths of the opposite gender?

I didn’t think so.

You see, sexuality is one thing that Scouting does not address. It is not relevant to the program. To those who say they would not have leaders “pushing a gay agenda,” I must say I have to agree. That’s not a part of the program. Likewise, I certainly don’t want to see leaders extolling the various methods of “getting it on” in heterosexual relationships. That’s not part of the program, either.

For Scouting, this continuing debate is important. It’s important because we’re the ones who need to decide that we can no longer swim in a political pond. We don’t belong there. We need to recognize, again, that we have a superior program for youth. Scouting has values which need to be extended to all youth possible with the aid of all adults of honorable character we can find.

WE have to decide to do that. The president, newspaper editors and nitwits with signs cannot help us.

I remain deeply concerned about the future of Scouting. This foray into politics has been tragic. We will not find our way out of it from external pressure. This is our movement and it’s up to us to restore it.

1 comment:

Jim N said...

Wow! A careful and helpful analysis of Scouting's mission. Obviously your background in scouting has been influential in your own development, Roger. While my experience in cub scouting was positive, my involvement in boy scouting was not. Many meetings where the Scout Master didn't show up; when he did, all we did was march around the gym in formation; and one camping experience that was disastrous. I quit. What kid needs uncaring and unskilled settings.