I was a Boy Scout.
My feelings about The Scouts are very complicated.
Throughout the mid 1960s and into the early 1970s I was a member of troop 181 in Rye NH where I grew up. During my pre-teens and early teenage years being a Scout was an important part of my identity and I learned a tremendous amount from the experience, particularly my love for the outdoors and the knowledge that I can usually figure out a way to do just about anything if I put my mind to it.
It’s been a long time since the summer at Camp Carpenter (now a Cub-Scout camp) back in ’69. This was the summer when I first recall becoming concretely aware that my interest in other boys was more than Platonic, although it would be more than a decade of self-doubt and denial before I came to accept my sexual orientation. In those days the notion of being “gay” wasn’t even considered in the context of Scouting other than as a taunt fired off at kids who might not have been the most self-confident or athletic.
That would have been me.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only queer kid at camp that summer. I know I wasn’t the only one in my troop – I can think of at least two other boys who were less than subtle about their sexuality although there was no way I was ready to acknowledge my own leanings even to myself so I tended to avoid them. (The feelings AND those two other Scouts. 😕 ) It was 1969, and it was a different world in so many ways. At that time the Stonewall uprising was still 10 years in the future and the notion of equality or free expression for those who were non-heterosexual was essentially beyond imagination. It certainly wasn’t discussed in the context of youth programs – heaven forbid! Sexuality of any nature was essentially glossed over other than vague references to “our changing bodies”
I kept my mind busy learning camping skills and developing a rich love of nature.
It has been difficult over the last twenty years or so to watch as the national organization, bowing to the extreme religious positions of some of its leaders, became a symbol of oppression and intolerance. The decision to accept openly gay Scouts two years ago was a huge step in the right direction. This week’s decision to allow local troops to accept openly gay adult leaders is to be commended. At last I feel as if I could almost be accepted by an organization that I found of such value growing up.
It’s still a limited victory. Bowing to pressure from religious groups the BSA still allows local troops, many of which are sponsored by religious institutions, to keep the ban in place if it violates their beliefs. This bow to “religious freedom” is largely an attempt by the BSA to keep the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) church from breaking off . The denomination is one of the largest sponsors of scout troops in the country, and despite the BSA allowing this exception, it appears as if the LDS may still sever its ties with the Boy Scouts over the issue.
As a Unitarian Universalist I find this exception particularly troubling and entirely disingenuous. In 1998 the Boy Scouts withdrew its recognition of the “Religion in Life” program for Unitarian Universalist Scouts over disagreement with our deeply held moral positions concerning the right of each individual to develop and express their own religious beliefs – even if such beliefs do not include a concept of God – as well as our long held acceptance and support for individuals of all sexual orientations. At that time the BSA did not allow openly gay youth to participate, holding that homosexuality was incompatible with the moral teachings of the organization.
I guess this gives us hope for further moral evolution.
How is it that while conservative religious organizations are allowed to exclude gay adults from leadership roles due to their religious beliefs, Unitarian Universalist boys are still not allowed to be honored and recognized as Scouts for their religious development and devotion to our moral principles . . . their moral principles? These moral principles include respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice equity and compassion in human relations; the right of conscience; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence. These are principles which are totally in harmony with what I thought Scouting was about when I was a kid.
And I wasn’t even a Unitarian Universalist then.
Here’s hoping that the Boy Scouts will continue evolving into a program relevant to all young men regardless of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation / expression.
This week’s decision is a huge step in the right direction.
In writing this I learned that my former troop – Boy Scout Troop 181 in Rye, NH no longer exists, apparently for lack of adult leadership. It was sort of like finding out that a favorite teacher from childhood had died.
My feelings about the Boy Scouts are very complicated.
They remain so.