Thursday, May 30, 2013

Boy Scout youth membership policy change - a perspective

On the topic of the policy change within the Boy Scouts of America:

This writing may not be seen by many, but throughout the arguments in the news media, social media, and amongst fellow scout leaders, parents, and friends, I feel the need to organize my thoughts and arguments in what I feel are a thoughtful way.

Much has been said on both sides of the argument, and those at the extremes of the argument (all homosexuals are pedophiles or that Boy Scouts teach hatred, exclusion and discrimination) don’t help the arguments made by either camp.

I have been a Scout leader for 4 years and a Scout parent for 5, with an 11-½ year old son who earlier this year crossed over to a Boy Scout troop.  At the Boy Scout level, ages range from 11 year olds (still in elementary school) through 17 year-old high school seniors.  I care about all of the boys and families that I serve in scouting, and many are underprivileged (and I find it a privilege to serve as a leader).  That being said, I am a parent to my young Scout first, and a leader second. 

I find multiple issues with the Boy Scout policy change stating, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone”.  Many things that I do or do not have issues with might be completely different for someone with the same value-set that I have, but who is uninitiated to how things are run in the Boy Scouts within the various major programs (Cub Scouts, Boys Scouts, and Venturing).  I would also argue that most of the “LGBT rights” activists also don’t understand the methods and inner workings of the scouting program and the issues and challenges that the policy change will bring, nor what motivates a parent (of most existing scouts) to sign their son up for scouts in the first place.

Some thoughts:

Homosexual adult leaders – to the experienced scout leader or involved parent of a scout, the fear of molestation or increased risk of pedophiles within the ranks of Scouts by virtue of allowing openly gay leaders, should be the least of their worries.  With strict and very well known (among boys, all leaders, and all parents) youth protection procedures and two-deep leadership, had there been a policy change allowing homosexual adult leaders, this would not have been my concern any more than existed before (one could argue any adult with the propensity to carry out such a heinous act would still conceal any homosexual preference to keep the spotlight off of them).

My primary concern had the policy changed in this area would be the value-set being proliferated by such a leader who was openly gay.  I expect the leaders my son is exposed to in scouting to set good (but certainly imperfect) examples for him in many ways, that on balance are in line with my value set.  I don’t have control over that when I send him to public school every day.  Part of why my wife and I have valued Scouting so much for our son has been the timeless values of God, Country, and Family that are becoming less and less common in other places. 

Gay Scouts and the “Boy Led Troop” – So I mentioned that my son is now in Boy Scouts instead of Cub Scouts.  The biggest change (again, the uninitiated wouldn’t understand the nuance) when going from the former to the latter is that most of the leadership and learning comes from the other boys.  The younger boys learn skills and subject matter from the older boys, and in turn the older boys learn how to lead by passing on that learning.  This would further likely put my mind at ease if a Boy Scout (not Cub Scout) leader was gay because the role of the adult (at least in my son’s troop) is really more that of advisor to the boy leadership who drives the agenda, content, plans and executes the meetings, campouts, and other events.  That brings me, however, to the actual policy change that the BSA made – to allow openly homosexual youth (scouts) to join and remain as members.  These boys as the get older, at about the same age they decide/realize they are gay, and are now allowed to be open and vocal about it, are also going to be expected to lead and teach the youngest boys in the troop – the very thing I would have been most concerned about (rather than molestation) with respect to adult leaders.  I might have expected that many adult leaders would respect the proper “time and place” concept of even introducing sexuality into the equation (many already have since there are gay leaders in Scouts today that keep that choice to themselves when it comes to Scouts).  Expecting teenagers with raging hormones to respect that time-and-place restraint is far less likely.  As it is today, my 11-year old son has overheard more cursing and sex-related talk from older boys on campouts than he ever heard before. 

Tent sharing, bathroom arrangements, etc – With Youth Protection policies, including having female scout leaders, the rules around bathroom and shower facilities already can get pretty interesting depending on where a troop is camping.  Tenting arrangements today are pretty cut and dried – adults camp in one area, youth in a completely separate area, unmarried adults of opposite sex do not tent together, and boys sharing a tent share a tent with another boy that is close to his age (no 17 and 11 year old sharing a tent unless they are related).  With Venturing being a co-ed program and starting at age 14, additional complexity comes into play with female youth – but they are pretty straightforward – boys and girls have separate shower and bathroom facilities, and do not tent together even if they are dating (I would say ESPECIALLY if they are dating). 

The approved policy change creates additional complexity and risk for the scout leader and potentially the charter organization, the council, and the BSA in general.  With Venturing, it is very straightforward to determine who is male and who is female to ensure sleeping arrangements are appropriate.  With the policy change, the Scoutmaster will be facing a dilemma of whether or not to inquire of a scout (either a scout in particular or all of them proactively) if he is gay or not.  If he does NOT ask, and the boy sexually assaults his tent-mate, will the leader, CO, or scouting organization open themselves up to litigation by the victim’s family for lack of due diligence in determining sexual preference for purposes of determining sleeping arrangements?  If he DOES ask, will he be accused of singling a boy out, invading the scout’s privacy, or some other kind of harassment?

If the Scoutmaster DOES KNOW about a scout that is gay, what is the acceptable tenting policy?  In Venturing, a large part of why there is no co-ed tenting is to avoid sexual activity, unwanted sexual advances, etc.  Venturing youth that are dating, even if over 18, are not allowed to tent together.  So does the gay scout tent with a heterosexual scout (see lawsuit question above)?  Does he tent with another gay scout if there is one in the same troop (see Venturing co-ed tenting)?  Is the BSA policy for the gay scout to tent alone?  If the last option is the preference, is that even practical in a situation like Philmont or similar high-adventure camps?

On the topic of the “Voice of the Scout” surveys – The BSA made much about how existing leaders and parents of existing scouts were in favor of no change to the policy.  Conversely, it pointed out how youth didn’t see anything wrong with admitting gay youth or leaders, and other adults no currently in scouting, particularly younger parents, also felt it would be OK. 

Youth are influenced by so much TV, Internet, and other media that have portrayed as normal (and even glamorized) a homosexual lifestyle and same sex parent household, that it is not surprising that they feel this way.  When a show called “Modern Family” shows the male homosexual “parents” as being probably the most normal family of the bunch, is anyone surprised that the attitudes of the young are shifting?  While I don’t have my son in scouts so they can teach him that it is wrong, I was more comfortable having him in a program that didn’t imply that it was OK.

What is more important in the “Voice of the Scout” – the voices that represent the millions of youth and leaders that are currently in the program, who give their time, sweat, blood, tears, and money to benefit youth in their community (many continue to do so long after their own kids leave the nest)?  Or the (low) thousands of scouts represented by the voices of people upset by the old policy who I would argue would have a very low likelihood of joining with our without the gay exclusion. 

Why and how are kids in Scouts – the survey talked about the attitudes of teenagers towards the policy.  That’s well and good to know, but I’m sorry, whether my son is a 6-year-old first grader signing up to be a Tiger Scout, or a pre-teen joining Boy Scouts – he is most likely signing up for Scouts (or anything else he is doing outside of school) with the encouragement of his parents, and absolutely only doing so with the permission of his parents.  Until he is an adult, I am still responsible for making sure he is being taught morals and values that are consistent with my faith and values.  Any scout leader knows there are two aspects Boy Scouts, as its founder called “A Game with a Purpose” – the fun things the boys “do” and the skills and values that the parents see them “learn”. 

The Gay Scout and denying an Eagle award – this topic has been a significant part of what sparked the latest wave of controversy.  There were some highly publicized cases where a Boy Scout revealed at his Eagle Board of Review that he was homosexual, and as a result was denied his Eagle Award.  Some extra background for the uninitiated – the boy could possibly have previously “come out” to the leadership of his local troop at prior Scoutmaster Conferences and/or Boards of Review for lower ranks and the troop decided not to act on it.  Eagle Boards of Review are conducted by a committee of leaders from OTHER troops in the district or council to ensure that this rare and prestigious rank is being properly earned and administered by the awarding troop. 

Like many others that didn’t want to see the BSA change its policy, this is a situation that tugs at your heart strings as one where a black-and-white policy may not be the best solution (the 11th-hour coming out, not the look-the-other-way situation).  I would argue that if the first time the boy comes out as gay within scouting is after he has completed the requirements for his Eagle award (or any other rank), that the boy should not be denied that award, but should also be asked to leave the organization as a current member given the incompatibility of the open nature of his same-sex preference and the values of scouting.  For many Eagle Scouts, that would be close to their 18th birthday, but for others like some in my son’s troop, that could fall between 14-16 also. 

A final word about the uninitiated – I was in 4 years of Cub Scouts as a youth, but never crossed over to Boy Scouts.  I have more tenure now as a scout leader than I did as a scout as a youth.  I’ve seen the program, especially in the last 5 months, grow my son tremendously.  We are invested in the program and what it has, can, and will do for him.  Since we live in the Dallas area, we don’t expect the policy change to have much, if any change to his scouting experience. 

I can’t say, however, that if the policy change were announced and my son were just finishing kindergarten instead of 5th grade, we would be making the same decision.  When we signed him up, I had no idea I would sign up as a leader (Wood Badge trained, den leader, Cubmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, District Committee member).  I didn’t know 90% of the great things that were to come for my son and our family as a whole through our involvement in Scouting.  Absent of that knowledge, and knowing that first and foremost that as his parents we have the responsibility to manage his spiritual growth and moral compass, I don’t know that I would sign up my soon-to-be 1st grader for Tigers this fall after last week’s policy change.  I wouldn’t know “what I don’t know” from the perspective of what is or isn’t discussed or taught in scouting and how. 

We can argue all we want about how sexuality has no place in scouting and how that would actually justify an inclusiveness approach, but in a country that is still largely Judeo-Christian, the policy change only instills more fear in the eyes of parents, ironically not because of how ignorant they might be about homosexuals, but their ignorance of the methods of the scouting programs.  Likewise, most proponents of the change also are ignorant of the methods of the scouting programs and the almost impossible challenges the demand of open and out gay scouts brings (as opposed to a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach). 

In closing, a large part of my own personal objection to any policy change to include homosexuals are based on my faith and what God teaches us in the Holy Bible.  I know that not everyone shares those beliefs, and that the Boys Scouts is not specifically a Christian-based program.  It is for this reason that I’ve tried to point out other reasons less subject to hate or attacks from that angle.