About a year ago my son declared that if he decided to marry another boy they could just have his sister help them have a baby. Today, he proclaimed that he was excited to start Cub Scouts this year and that he would definitely go all the way to being an Eagle Scout.
If you’ve been following the news lately you know that these two positions aren’t really compatible. I’ve never been a big fan of the Boy Scouts (or really any other group, but that’s a different story). I’m not sure how Post-Nazi era any psuedo-para-military group for boys could choose brown shirts without you know, blushing a little.
Yet my daughter LOVES Girl Scouts and my son has looked forward to being able to join his own group. There’s a part of me that knows I shouldn’t let him join. Earlier this year I stopped him (at least temporarily) from taking up tackle football because I don’t know if it would be good for him or not.
Joining a group that discriminates against people cannot be good for my son. Except that their discriminatory policies are not the totality of Boy Scouts. I’ve seen what Girl Scouts has done for my daughter and I have no doubt that being a part of Boy Scouts would be equally good for my son.
When I was growing up we were not allowed to eat Nestlé products because they promoted formula instead of breast feeding in African countries without clean water. We did not eat grapes or lettuce because of, um, I’m not sure, it had to do with Cesar Chavez though. I was raised to believe in the power of a boycott, that your money should always follow your values. Certainly, your parenting should follow your values as well?
Yet, I live in Oak Park, a suburb so liberal even the expressway exits left. A man I like leads a local boy scout troop. I’ve been told that local troops are not tightly tied to the national organization and that very little dues money goes to the organization as a whole. I’m pretty sure that the local troops do not discriminate.
I have seen multiple Facebook posts over the past few days from people musing about starting their own “boy scout like group.” That’s great and I respect and admire them for it. I do not have the patience or time to start a new scouting group. I barely have the patience and time to be the mother of someone in a scouting group. What’s more, my son doesn’t want to be part of an alternative group.
He doesn’t want to sit around with a bunch of other well meaning liberal moms and kids. He wants a uniform and badges and camping trips. He wants a father/son overnight at the planetarium and to feel like he’s part of something bigger than Oak Park. I know there are a lot of gay kids and sons of gay parents out there who want that, too and it makes me furious that they are denied that opportunity.
But does that mean that I also have to deny the opportunity to my son? My son does not know the word “gay.” He knows that some of his uncles are married to each other. He knows that one of his uncles is married to another man and is the father of three boys. He does not know yet that this is a problem for some people.
How do I tell him that he can’t be a part of something fun and positive because some people are hateful? How would I possibly explain this discrimination?
But let’s say he is in fact gay. How will I explain to him when he’s 16 and kicked out of Eagle Scouts that, “Yes, I did know this could happen, but you know, I decided to give your time and my money to a group that hates you”?
My husband and I have not yet decided what to do. What would you do?
I feel like I am looking into my future reading this post–both about football and boy scouts! We love football and I’m sure Owen will have some interest in it when he sees us watching it (and dressing him up in the cutest little Vikings outfits we can find) but I really, really don’t want him to play. At best, it is hard on the body and can cause some gnarly knee, ankle, shoulder problems; at worst, concussions and long term brain issues. I think we’ll have to show equal enthusiasm for other less dangerous sports. Swimming! Soccer! Yea! Boy Scouts is just as tricky. I think we would work as hard as we could to find an similar group without the bad views–YMCA Indian Guides? Maybe REI has a kids hiking/camping group???
I’m a mom of a boy, but he never had the slightest interest in Scouts, so I’m writing this from a hypothetical point of view, not from experience.
There are two ways to go. You can try to find an alternative out there and just tell him that you don’t think his doing Boy Scouts is a good idea — you’re the parent. (We’ve invoked the parent clause for other things before, and it feels strange but it works.) Whether there’s a good alternative isn’t something I know much about. At this point I feel the Girl Scouts would take everyone and pretty soon they’re going to end up with boys whose parents don’t want them in Boy Scouts, but that’s a different topic for another day.
The other alternative is to promote change from within. There are indeed troops (packs?) who go against the national standards and openly welcome anyone. I know of some adults who are involved in this, who feel that they can make more of a difference from inside the organization rather than just shunning it, who feel that there is still good that comes from Scouting and that they can help force out the bad. So if there’s a group near you like that, I would say you can feel fine about that route as well. (Just read an article the other day about how the Twin Cities’ Scouts openly go against the national policy, so any group telling its members they can’t buck the policy is lying.)
Parenting is hard, but you’re the parent of your own child. Go with your gut and do what you feel is right for your family.
I wish I could offer some words of wisdom. I am grateful that my two sons are grown now and I am not confronted with this question, to try to protect your son from future pain while he enjoys a sense of belonging. We all learn from experience. It sounds like you have taught him well and that he is an accepting, nonjudgmental child. As he grows up those values will stay with him. Be prepared to answer the tough questions that come up as he is confronted with becoming aware that not all people think the same way he does. This is part of growth and will happen with or without the Scouts.
I don’t have kids, so I’m not an authority. But my instinct is to tell him the situation. “Some people have a problem with people like your uncles… they think that only men and women should get married. The head of the Scouts won’t let them be part of the Scouts. If you still want to be a Scout, I support you, but you should know that.” Then let HIM decide.
My experience as an atheist boy scout was that it all depends on the troop that you’re part of. Our troop was willing to interpret the requirement that you be “reverent” broadly – and was a wonderful experience for all involved (and, to be honest, I can’t imagine that a gay boy would have been turned away). It sounds like your troop may be the same – particularly if you know the scout leader. With that said, scout leaders change, especially when their sons grow up, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
As a teen I had a great time in Boy Scouts. The camping particularly was fun (and compared to most other group activities it was cheap). Cubs not so much, but some kids did. I find the Boy Scouts current policy to be idiotic and indefensible, but I would also say that if your boy is at Cub age, he’s got some growing and experimenting to do re being gay or straight so I wouldn’t stress out about either that or his being a Cub Scout. Going all the way to Eagle is a great achievement (which I never did, but my brother did). A really motivated boy can be Eagle by the time he is 14, but that’s really pushing it. What Scouts will do among other things is teach leadership skills. It’s worth it. It’s also worth it, should your son turn out to be gay, to prove to the Scouts that being gay and being “morally straight” are not contradictory. The Boy Scout code is a good one for everyone. (As for the brown shirts, the Scouts have been in existence longer than the Nazis, so it is probably accidental. As for the military part, that’s not accidental, but by design, but the Scouts have moved a long way from their military roots.)
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