With school only weeks away, it's time to think ahead to earlier bedtimes, nightly homework, after-school soccer — and Scouts.
My son's a Webelos this year. Having decided to join in first grade, he's stayed with it. He's learned how to carve a boat out of wood and fire off a rocket, how to be a responsible brother and son, and a good neighbor. Along the way he's made friends and had fun. He and I should be proud.
Trouble is, I'm no longer entirely comfortable with what Boy Scouts of America (BSA) represents, or with the values it teaches.
Don't get me wrong. Scouting offers much that is wholesome and worthwhile. It encourages boys to think about their community and how they can play their part. It teaches honesty and fair play. It channels competitive energy into (mostly) friendly competition, fosters relationships with mentors and peers, and provides opportunities for teamwork in pursuit of a shared goal. All this is commendable.
But organized Scouting, unfortunately, also continues to uphold bigotry. No, this message isn't highlighted at den meetings, at least not in our pack. If it's mentioned somewhere in the handbooks that detail requirements and electives, I've somehow missed it. But as the BSA reaffirmed last month, and as an Ohio troop demonstrated in April by kicking out a lesbian den mother, the organization's official policy is to bar avowed homosexuals.
As a Scout parent, I find this unethical and irresponsible. Someday my son may ask me why it's considered right to exclude gays, and I'd be at a loss for an answer. Do I tell him that homosexuality is "immoral" — thus placing gay relatives and family friends, or the late Sally Ride and other admired Americans, on the same level as liars or thieves? Or that Scouting draws support from fundamentalists, and it's the way of Scouts to follow the money trail?
Should I spin a mythical tale about the topic, something about Father Wolf and Baloo and the Law of the Jungle? How the animals assembled by firelight and decided to banish Pink Cheetah from the pack?
And what happens this fall at fundraising time? Each year Scouts head out into their communities to sell popcorn to neighbors, or to set up stands outside the supermarket. My son's gung-ho about it, happy to sell something his friends want to buy, and even more thrilled at the chance to win a prize for his efforts.
Last year, like many Scout dads, I helped him out by posting an order form in the kitchen at work, and we sold plenty. After all, popcorn is tasty, and Scouting is a respected American institution. Unfortunately, it is also an institution that traffics in homophobia. When we sell BSA popcorn, are we endorsing a policy of hate and discrimination? Do I feel comfortable asking colleagues and friends to do the same?
The leadership is defiant about its right to exclude gays, yet shifty about the rationale. Honesty, I would think, is among the values which Scouts should embrace, but when it comes to this issue BSA has been anything but straightforward. On the one hand, it has claimed to have "no quarrel with the homosexual community"; on the other, it insinuates that gays are a threat to morality. It claims to be supporting values based on religious faith, but the Scouting movement also professes to welcome a variety of faiths — some of which, Buddhism for instance, do not condemn homosexuality.
In some documents, it implies that gays should be excluded because Scouts are not interested in topics having to do with sexual preference, even though the membership includes 11-18 year olds who presumably have heard about the birds and the bees, as well as actual birds and bees. The latest excuse — vague and ludicrous — is that admitting gays or lesbians would be a "distraction."
The real distraction, though, is the one the BSA has created through the reaffirmation of its anachronistic policy. Recently a group of Eagle Scouts returned their badges, and I can understand their frustration and dismay: they must have felt the whole experience has been sullied.
I hope such feelings aren't in store for my son, but the BSA has not given much reason for optimism. By hewing to a stance it can't even explain coherently, the organization cheats young Scouts who work hard to earn their badges. That's neither honest nor fair.
Robert Herschbach is an editor at an IT firm and a freelance writer in Howard County. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.