An Open Letter to the BSA

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

I spent many years in scouting, beginning as a Cub Scout and continuing on in Boy Scouts until I was 17, a few badges shy of the rank of Eagle. I learned a lot from your organization, and at certain points in my rather painful teenage years, the Boy Scouts were my primary social group, the one place I could go to feel accepted.

Let me stress that point. The most important aspect of Scouting, for me, was that sense of acceptance.

So you might wonder why I dropped out. There were two reasons.

  1. Disillusionment with our local adult leaders, who seemed more interested in power than in creating good experiences for the kids.
  2. The Boy Scouts’ ongoing discrimination against homosexuals.

The former is something that happens anywhere. These are volunteer positions, and while some of the leaders were awesome, some were not. There will always be petty, power-hungry people who try to carve out little kingdoms for themselves in any organization.

The latter, on the other hand… Well, back in 1991 when I was dropping out, Parvin L. Bishop, National Director of Program of the BSA, was in court explaining that:

“…the requirements that a scout be ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean’ are inconsistent with homosexuality, and therefore known or avowed homosexuals or those who advocate to scouting youth that homosexual conduct is morally straight or clean, will not be registered as adult leaders.”

My response as a 17-year-old boy was something along the lines of, “Go to hell.”

That was 20 years ago, but it doesn’t look like things have changed. In 2009, after rejecting a lesbian couple from volunteering as Cub Scout leaders, Richard Stockton, Scout executive for the Green Mountain Council explained, “The national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is we don’t accept gays and lesbians as volunteers.”

My response to your discriminatory policies, 20 years later, is likewise unchanged.

This has created a dilemma for me. You see, my son heard about the local Cub Scout pack at his school’s open house, looked at the activities they did, and wanted to join.

My son is autistic, and my wife and I are working hard to find opportunities for him to socialize with other kids and improve those skills. I remember how much scouting gave to me as a child, and I suspect it would be just as helpful for my son, if not more so. And this is what he wants.

A six-year-old won’t understand that his father is uncomfortable with the organization he wants to join because the people who run that organization are engaging in their constitutionally-protected right to be bigoted douchebags. (I’m paraphrasing the court decision here a little bit.)

On the other hand, in signing him up for Cub Scouts, I’m writing a check to an organization that believes many of my friends and loved ones are unclean and immoral. I’m supporting an organization that actively discriminates against them.

As angry as I am at you for putting me into that position, I’m even more pissed at what you’re doing to your members. When I sat in on the local pack meeting a few weeks back, I found myself wondering how many of these kids would grow up and realize that they aren’t, in fact, heterosexual. At which point they’ll find that the organization they’ve been a part of for so many years is ready and eager to condemn them, and to turn its back on them.

In the end, we signed my son up and wrote the check. He wants to be a Cub Scout like his cousin, and I don’t feel okay with letting my beliefs stand in the way of that. My own conflicts aside, I think this will be a good experience for him. He’s enjoying it so far, and apparently made a bit of a splash at his last meeting when he explained what justice was by likening it to the Justice League of America.

I don’t know if this was the right decision. But I do know that for every check we write to the BSA, I plan to write a matching check to an organization that works to end discrimination against homosexuals. (Suggestions welcome.)

According to the supreme court, you have the right to discriminate. Just as I have the right to speak out against that discrimination, and to limit my support of your organization until you change those policies.

Actually, speaking out against your policies feels more like a duty, one based on things like loyalty to my friends and loved ones; trying to help other people who have been victims of your bigotry; and following my own moral principals.

You know, things I learned in Scouting.