A Family Struggle: Boy Scouts' Stance on Homosexuality
Q: My two sons, middle school and high school age, are in Boy Scouts. With the Boy Scouts’ stand on gays, my children, my husband and I are all struggling with whether or not the boys should remain in Scouting, since we all feel that the organization is discriminating against gays. The boys enjoy Scouting, and we feel that they gain many positive things from their involvement. However, the boys and many of their friends are considering quitting. Some people say they will stay in and work to change policy from the inside. We’re in a dilemma. What should we do? Follow our values or encourage our sons to stay in?
A: It sounds as if you have already taken the most important step; you are all talking about the ethical issues you are facing — believing in a program and not believing in that program’s practices. This is allowing your family an opportunity to debate core issues. These include: How can we make a difference? How do we inform larger systems about our beliefs? How do we set priorities in our personal lives? Remember, what we do and what we don’t do can make a difference.
When thinking about values and beliefs, we know that our children have received clear messages from us about our beliefs by the time they reach middle and high school. We know that what is most important is inviting them to think about the pros and cons in any decision and weigh their options. We also know that our children may not think similarly. Opinions of one son may not be the same as the other. In fact, your opinion about what should be done and your husband’s may also differ.
You may all agree that the position the Boy Scouts has taken against gays in their organization is wrong, but you also may develop very different ideas about how to respond to that decision. Since this creates a great learning opportunity, you and your husband may want to start with the belief that you are open to any of the choices the kids make about their own Scouting experience. Each of you can support them and also take measures that allow you to honor your beliefs.
Make sure these questions are being answered as you all discuss the issue:
• How has the recent decision regarding acceptance of gays in Boy Scouts influenced your troop?
• Has it negatively impacted your experience of Scouting?
• How has the issue come up within your troop amongst the membership?
Your younger son may need a historical perspective about why the issue and conflict even exist. Here are some facts recently cited that may help set a context for the situation:
• In 1991 the Girl Scouts of America stated that there are no membership requirements based on sexual orientation.
• In 1993 the Girl Scouts of America stated that it respected the rights and religious tradition of all its members. Girls could Believe in God, Allah, Mohammed, or in no God as she chose.
• In a 2003 Girl Scouts stated, we “value diversity and inclusiveness and, therefore, do not discriminate on any basis… We believe that sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address.”
• In 2011 the Girl Scouts of Colorado took this position:“If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.” Gender Identification issues were addressed in this position.
Why is it the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the 4-H Club have not taken the position the Boy Scouts of America has taken? What message does the Boy Scouts send when it says that the organization will not inquire about sexual orientation and will not grant membership to members who are open homosexuals? How does that affect self-esteem? Some say that this decision contributes to bullying in schools. Others state that the Boy Scouts are just moving slowly and must eventually acknowledge the rich diversity in life. Those protecting disenfranchised youth feel passionately that it is critical to take a position.
My own family has a long history with the Scouts. Being a Cub Scout Den Mother and teaching the Boy Scout merit badge on Family Life led me to an appreciation of the skills Scouting fostered in both of my sons. I loved watching my husband and sons go off on their male-bonding weekend camping trips. Going to the Scout Jamboree in Washington, DC was a major event for our youngest, who is now a young adult. I did not know that he had struggled with the exclusiveness of Scouting during his membership until we spoke about it recently.
When he was a Life Scout, I was always perplexed about why he didn’t go on to complete his Eagle Scout project. In fact, I believed it was his father’s and my fault. We had wanted it too much for him. He told me recently that it was the Boy Scouts’ stand on sexual preference that he took issue with and thus allowed himself to quit. It was the only way he knew to no longer support their values. Did it cost him? Did it cost the Scouts? I believe that both the boys and Scouting are losing out with this stance. He and his friends believed in gender rights and gender neutrality. He now believes he would not have left had the Boy Scouts taken a different stand on gay members.
Know that no one in your family can make a wrong decision on this issue. The most important thing is that you discuss it and support one another on the route you take. Staying, leaving, writing the national headquarters regularly, supporting others in speaking out, all are worthy expressions of interest. If you are fighters and want the system to change, try it from both directions, inside and out. Most importantly, support one another and keep the practices that you value about Scouting active in your family. Good luck!