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Boy Scouts, Bans, and Boycotts.

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message J. Edward Tremlett     Permalink
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Can we really, in good conscience, throw an otherwise-exemplary organization down the hole of shame because its leaders' heads are still stuck in the 1950's? I say no, but let me tell you why...


Like many Boy Scouts, past and present, I was quite heartened to hear that the Boy Scouts of America was seriously considering rescinding its long-held ban on openly gay members. Consequently, I was rather disheartened to hear that the Council broke without reaching a decision, as they needed more time to research the subject.

I have to seriously wonder: what did they really need to research? Do they really need more evidence to show them that this ban is wrong? Or are they trying to find a way to tell the Scouts and Scoutmasters that are threatening to quit that their anger will not deter them from doing the right thing?

(NB: Everyone likes to talk about the ACLU did the right thing and defended Nazis in Illinois. No one wants to talk about how a lot of the ACLU turned in their cards and quit when they did. Doing the right thing stings, sometimes.)

In the face of this intransigence, a number of past and present Scouts are threatening to quit the organization if they DON'T rescind the ban, unwilling to bend in the face of what may be the great civil rights fight of our times.

This is kind of a tough one for me, being an Eagle Scout. I've seen the good that Scouting can do for people. I've also seen the bad, which is why I don't treasure being an Eagle as much as I could, or perhaps should.

But let's start with something that should be obvious: I do not agree with the Boy Scouts of America's ban on homosexuals. I think it's archaic and ridiculous, not to mention ignorant, mean-spirited, and downright rude.

I also think it runs counter to the Boy Scouts' mission, as it turns away young men that Scouting is in a unique position to help and guide. In a world where being who and what you are can bring out rudeness and violence in others, having an open and welcome hand from someone who cares about you, as a person and a young man, may make the difference between success or failure, life and death.

That goes for being a nerd or a weirdo, a geek or a dork. It applies to the straight-laced goody-goody and the kid who needs a kick in the pants. It's for the person so far ahead of the curve that school is a hindrance rather than a help, and someone who needs the kind of encouragement and positive attention that Scouting can provide.

Scouting tells young men that their lives are worth something. It tells them that they are unique creatures who can, if they put their hands together, create and maintain something greater than themselves. It gives them goals and motivates them to attain them. It teaches them important and fun things, and helps them discover what they can do, and what they might like to do, someday.

Does a gay boy not need that kind of encouragement? Does a gay boy not feel alone, or outcast? Can the gay heart not hunger for the kind of togetherness and cooperation that Scouting can provide?

Of course they do. We all do. And for that reason alone, gays should be openly welcomed at Scouting's table.

So why the ban, then?

In the old copy of the Scoutmasters Handbook, Homosexuality was considered a disease. It spoke of homosexuals looking to join and "recruit" confused boys. Scoutmasters had to try and be careful not to mistake harmless curiosity for predation, but if it turned out that a person was actually gay, and not just exploring, then they should be sent away to "get help," as though they had a heroin habit.

Curiosity? Of course. We don't come into this world with personalized instruction manuals. Being a young man is all about going through intense mental, psychological, and physical changes, each one seemingly more world-changing than the last. We are bound to be confused and have questions, and may need to turn to some older person, other than a parent, and ask questions in an atmosphere of trust.

And in that moment of vulnerability, when we really don't know what we're doing, predators will prey upon the unwise and unwary -- turning an innocent-seeming conversation into horrid abuse. It's a sad fact of life, and, if you only consider that aspect of human sexuality, then the ban seems practical -- even prudent.

But I think boys are in more danger of being sexually abused by fellow scouts and supposedly "straight" adults -- especially their own family members -- than genuine chickenhawks. After a period of laxity, and at least one embarrassing sting by a "gotcha" news program, the BSA has been rather good about checking sex offenders lists when non-parents show up and want to volunteer.

So if we eliminate, or at least sharply lessen, the chances of adult predators taking advantage of confused young boys, then what remains? Only a fear of "sexual immorality," which Scouts are told to avoid, along with many other ills, by being "morally straight."

But what IS "immorality?" Is it that which is not "moral," or merely that which is not "normal? Is it not possible for a gay man to be moral, or are his yearnings somehow tainted with sin simply because he wants men instead of women? In the face of biological and psychological findings that reveal that gender identity is often sorted out in the womb, rather than the heart, one can only wonder at those who still call these inbuilt desires sinful.

(And, yes, if we let our inbuilt desires do all our thinking for us, then we'd be smashing rivals over the heads with rocks and taking their stuff. But the last time I checked there's a major difference between love and sex and theft and murder one.)

Boys will be boys, and boys turning into men will be boys turning into men. As such, sex is going to happen. Curiosity is some of it, actual gay or bi desire is another. And while such activity might not be welcome at Scout functions, really should have more to do with what's going on at that function, rather than a penalizing of sex, itself.

So I think I'd be in favor of a ban on sexual behavior at scout activities, period. That goes for sneaking off with the Camp leader's daughter or having it off in the showers with your BFF. You're not there to get your jimmy whacked, after all; Scouting calls us to something of a higher goal.

But when it comes to questions of sexual identity, I would want Scouting to reflect the reality of life in its teachings. We are not all binary creatures; our sexuality is somewhere on a sliding scale between male and female, and yes and no. To tell young men -- confused enough already -- that they can only choose one corner on that massive, complicated graph to dwell within is to deny one of the great truths of our small and finite lives, and to cut us off from one of the greater aspects of our existence -- the physical and spiritual joining that is love, itself.

Regardless of where we draw our fantasies from, and how we'd like to fulfill them, Scouting should be a voice for moderation, sensibility, and intelligent action in the otherwise-insane impulses that a young man's mind and soul have to deal with. They should be able to tell any young man that this is normal, and that they can persevere, and that a wondrous world will be waiting for them on the other side of all this growth, confusion, and hormones.

And that yes, even your desires -- gay, straight, or otherwise -- are as normal as they come. This knowledge should not only be the province of internet hipsters with youtube videos, created to keep kids from suicide. It should be on the lips of parents, teachers and preachers everywhere.

It should also be coming from Scoutmasters.

So I hope the BSA, when it meets again, reverses its policy. But if they decide not to, I'm not going to boycott the group, either. I got too much from it -- good and bad -- to turn my back on it, and I recognize that the good it does far outshadows this unfortunate bad.

But I will keep working, as an Eagle Scout, to get them to reverse a poor decision that limits young men from enjoying what the group has to offer based on outdated psychology and overblown fears. I would hope that other, brother Scouts would do the same.


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J. Edward Tremlett is a lot of things, currently. He's back in the states after a seven-year stint in Dubai, UAE. He's been published in such diverse places as The American Partisan, the International American, The End is Nigh, Pyramid Magazine (more...)

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