No, the Scouts' ban on gays is cruel to gay adolescents--boys who are already involved in scouting. What's worse is that it's cruel to them at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives. A gay teenager who got involved in scouting before he had any inkling that he might be gay can now add the fear of being tossed out of the Boy Scouts to a long list of other fears, like being rejected by his family, ostracized by his friends, and condemned by his church. The Scouts' ban on gays is not going to result in a lot of high-profile "don't ask, don't tell"-style expulsions, à la the Marines or the Navy. Boy Scouts who grow up and realize they're gay will simply walk away, further isolating themselves, and pursue other, perhaps less wholesome pastimes.
But the Boy Scouts of America aren't just picking on already persecuted kids. Ultimately, the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts will hurt straight kids, too. Thousands of gay and lesbian couples all over the country are having children, and most of our children, just like the children of straight parents, will grow up to be straight. That means there are thousands of little boys out there with gay dads and dyke moms who may want to join the Boy Scouts one day. Curious as to what would happen if my two-and-a-half-year-old son wants to join when he turns seven--the age at which he can officially become a Cub Scout--I called the offices of the regional scouting organization.
"Your son would be welcome into the troop," said Carrol Murray, local spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America. "But you would not be able to participate. You could not be a troop leader."
Okay, even if my boyfriend and I let go of our lifelong dream to be, uh, troop leaders, what about other kinds of involvement? Would we be allowed to attend father/son hikes? Would we be allowed to make cookies for bake sales? Would we be able to escort my son to his weekly Cub Scout den meeting? Or would we have to send him in a cab? And what about... camping trips?
"We encourage parents to participate," explained Murray. "But we have to follow national policy." And just what is national policy in regard to gay and lesbian parents? "I believe your Troop Committee would get to vote on whether or not they were comfortable with your participation."
As for regional or national events, the national scouting organization would get to rule on whether or not we could attend. Murray acknowledged that the Scouts wouldn't subject any other sets of parents to a vote of approval or bar them from accompanying their children to scouting events. Hmm. When asked if she thought it might be, oh, just a little traumatic for a boy to see his parents kicked out of scouting events by his own troop, Murray responded, "Kicked out is a strong word." Okay, then let's call it banned or barred or booted--whatever it's called, won't it be traumatic for the child? "I can't answer whether it would be traumatic or not," said Murray.
Libby Smith is the registrar for Cub Scout Pack 275, the pack my son would join if he decided to go into scouting. "I wouldn't have any problem with you guys being involved," said Smith. "The more parents that we can get involved, the better."
Even gay and lesbian parents?
"Parents are parents," she said, adding that this was her personal opinion. "If they're good parents, I want them involved." Smith warned me, though, that we might encounter problems at larger scouting events. "Frankly, I don't understand the problem," she said. "Cub Scouts are just little boys who want to get together and play and learn and have a good time. Hopefully, by the time your son is old enough for Cub Scouts, all of this won't be an issue anymore."
I hope so, too, but that seems unlikely. Large organizations that actively discriminate rarely abandon discriminatory policies they fought long and hard to preserve, and local supporters of the Scouts--Safeco, Microsoft, Boeing, Wells Fargo, REI, The Seattle Times--have all indicated that they're going to continue to give money to the Scouts, disregarding their own corporate anti-discrimination policies. (Can you imagine all of these good corporate citizens continuing to fund a group that fought all the way to the Supreme Court to discriminate against black children, or Jewish children, or disabled children? Or, for that matter, the children of insurance salesmen, computer programmers, aircraft engineers, bank tellers, mountain bikers, or newspaper reporters?) Absent outside pressure, I somehow doubt "all of this" is going to go away by the time my son is seven years old.
Tellingly, before I got off the phone with Boy Scouts spokeswoman Murray, she asked me a couple of questions. "This is all theoretical, right?" Murray said. "You would never actually put your son in Boy Scouts, would you?" My son is only two years old, so the question is theoretical--for the moment. But my son plays with other two year-old boys in our neighborhood, and some of these boys have older brothers who are already Boy Scouts. If his friends join Cub Scouts in five years' time, odds are pretty good my son will want to join, too, which could make for some rather tense phone conversations between Ms. Murray and me in the future.
But with any luck, my son and his friends will choose to join a club that doesn't discriminate. "We don't have a problem with who a child is, or who his parents are," said Carey Roos, a spokesperson for the 4-H Clubs of Washington, which, like the Girl Scouts, doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. "We think 4-H should be open to all youth," said Roos.
It's too bad for my son that the Boy Scouts of America, Safeco, Microsoft, Boeing, Wells Fargo, REI, and The Seattle Times don't feel the same way.