I was a Scout. Of course, back then it was called Boy Scouts, but Scouts, nonetheless.
Growing up in Manhattan, it was easy to be bored with the world around you. The change of seasons was hardly noticeable…a few more clothes, a little snow…and with all the paranoia — some of it warranted, as careful readers of my blog know — about this pervert and that hoodlum, it was easy to fall into a routine where you had few goals and fewer structures to support your behavior and character.
Enter the Scouts. I joined the Cub Scouts early on and progressed into the Boy Scouts where, I am proud to say, I earned the Life Scout badge.
I would have made Eagle, but college beckoned at 16, and I had to choose between scouting and making pocket money. In addition, I was selected for the prestigious Order of the Arrow society, which was de rigeur for any Scout who wanted to be an Eagle.
The Scouts were a grand old time: we backpacked the Adirondacks, camped out in New Jersey, ran one of the nation’s first paper and metal recycling facilities (I was most proud of that) and generally came together the way boys of that pre-teen, pre-pubescent age can. We played games. We chose up teams. We roughoused. We bonded over bugs and campfires, latrines and lanterns.
We performed community service (you know, the “good deed for the day”?) and I’m pleased to count the Scouts as a major influence towards my liberal thinking.
Homosexuality never came into it, not because gays were forbidden (indeed, my first Senior Patrol Leader came out as an adult, and several of my charges when I was SPL are also out now) but because none of the kids understood what sex meant, much less loving another man was.
If the adults met and discussed it, we never knew. Or cared. None of the kids had any whisper campaigns about little Johnny or Mark. If we teased anyone…remember, it was a different era…it was goodnaturedly. I was teased, you were teased, he was teased, we were all teased. It wasn’t any different, or anymore wrong or right, than calling Phillip or Michael “fat.”
It was disillusioning, also disheartening then, when I was an adult to read the BSA had not only banned gay Scoutmasters, but gay Boy Scouts themselves. Somethingsomething pedophilia, somethingsomething victims, somethingsomething morals clause.
Now, it’s true, the Boy Scout oath says something about “keeping myself morally straight,” but somehow, in adolescence, “straight” takes on a different meaning: I won’t lie, I won’t cheat, I won’t steal. I’ll treat people honestly and fairly.
So it seemed to me that the only way to be honest with people is to let me have the opportunity to interact with them honestly. Hiding someone away because he’s different is dishonesty, and the Scouts really ought to be ashamed of themselves for that.
No matter. I was ashamed for them. I wrote my local Council and asked to be removed from the roster of the OofA, because (as I had learned by my 30s) the man who inducted me in was never welcome, therefore I had not earned my place in the society.
Mind you, the NY Council disagreed vehemently with the national’s decision, which is why I never surrendered my sash or insignia. I was willing to support them in their fight, but not willing to accept an elite honor from an organization that was willing to abnegate around ten percent of my friends who were also members.
We did what we could. It’s taken twenty years…more like forty if you go back to the original proclamations of the national board, but I was too young to notice then…but we may finally prevail. And while the new proposal is more like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” than an outright affirmation of the rights of gays to serve and be served in the Scouts, it’s better than we had, and better than I would have hoped for.
But here’s the tragic part, for my point of view:
About 50 local United Way groups and several corporations and charities have concluded that the ban violates their non-discrimination requirements and have ceased providing financial aid to the Boy Scouts. An official of The Human Rights Campaign, an advocate for gay rights, said HRC planned to downgrade its non-discrimination ratings for corporations that continue to give the BSA financial support.
“It’s an extremely complex issue,” said one Boy Scouts of America official, who explained that other organizations have threatened to withdraw their financial support if the BSA drops the ban.
So, like the Komen controversy, it wasn’t until it hit the pocketbook that things got clear.
So much for “morally straight.”