brave-textAs we reported on The LEFT Show, the BSA is considering lifting their ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. They would still allow chartering organizations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you know, the Mormons) to keep the ban, but would not prevent more liberal charters from allowing gays. After the Great Salt Lake Council successfully blocked the BSA from making the decision in a regular staff meeting, forcing them to put it to a vote at the National Council convention, the BSA sent out two surveys, one from the National Council and one from the Utah Councils. Both asked very specific questions about whether you felt the ban should be lifted and whether or not you would remain in Scouting if it were. Naturally I answered that I wanted the ban lifted. The national survey put forth scenarios. I’ll paraphrase my favorite (since I didn’t copy and paste the exact quote):

A religious group is the chartering organization of a Scout unit. They are openly accepting of homosexuality and even have a gay youth minister. Traditionally for this organization, the youth minister is assigned as one of the Scoutmasters for the unit. Should the openly gay youth minister be assigned as one of the Scoutmasters?

According the Salt Lake Tribune today, 83% of those surveyed (only 11% responded) in the Utah councils do not want the ban lifted. Honestly, with only 11% responding, I’m shocked it’s only 83%, I thought the number would be in the 90s. Had more than 11% responded  I believe it would be around 50% or even lower. Only those willing to be vocal about it responded, but I know many parents and volunteers involved in Scouting who support (or certainly don’t oppose) lifting the ban.

Both surveys had sections where you could include a comment. The GSL Council page didn’t limit the word count, so here is what I included with my survey:

fcsbWhen I teach my Webelos Den about the First Class Scout badge, we talk about how the fluer de lis was at one time, the symbol for the North point of a compass, and that indicates a Scout always points true. That the eagle on the front represents the United States, that the ribbon below is shaped like a smile, because a Scout is cheerful, and that the knot at the bottom is to remind us to always do a good turn daily. But the one part I make them pay special attention to are the two stars on either side of the eagle. Those stars stand for truth and knowledge, and that without seeking those every day, you have no hope of following the Scout oath or law, since how can you do your duty if you don’t know what it is? How can you be trustworthy if you don’t know what that means?

I believe this knee-jerk reaction to the BSA’s decision in this state is not based on truth and knowledge, but on fear. Fear of change, fear of acceptance, and fear of being wrong. But a Scout is Brave, and we need to be brave as well.

Despite the popular belief in this state and country, no one chooses to be gay. I don’t know this personally, but I do know it from friends and family members that I have spoken to and sought to understand who are gay. The majority of the time, the following is the case: When a boy discovers he is gay, it is the worst time in his life and he is often afraid. Afraid of telling his peers for fear of ridicule or bullying, afraid of telling his parents for fear of rejection, and often afraid of admitting it to himself out of self loathing. Now ask yourself, why on Earth, when that’s is almost always the case, would a boy choose that for himself? The simplest answer is that they don’t, that is just how they are and we might as well accuse them of choosing the color of their eyes.

When a scout is afraid, we remind them of the Scout Law and tell them that a Scout is Brave. Right now, Scouting is another place a boy has to fear revealing his secret, because he knows when he does he will not only be rejected but removed simply for being brave enough to admit his feelings. He is removed because the BSA is afraid. Afraid that he might “contaminate” the other boys. Afraid that the unit might be uncomfortable with him. Afraid that he might attack the other boys out of lust… Eliminate the last one I stated and you could apply that to any boy of a race, creed or religion who falls outside the norm.

I know so many half-hearted Scouts that we push and push to stay active and earn their Eagles, yet I’m hearing more and more about Scouts who once they reveal they’re gay are being denied their Eagle, despite having earned it. So a straight Scout who doesn’t really want to be there is pushed to get their Eagle, but a gay Scout who has worked hard for it is denied it out of hand. How is that fair? If a boy was bound in a wheelchair, we’d encourage him to get his Eagle. How? He can’t go on all the outdoor activities that are required of a Boy Scout. He likely can’t pass the swim test, and in some cases of handicapped boys, can’t camp out. Yet we’ll make special exceptions for him because we care, and we want Scouting to be for ALL boys. So let’s be brave and keep it for all boys!

Of course there’s the morality issue… a Scout takes the oath to have a duty to God and to stay morally straight. I am not LDS, but I volunteer with an LDS sponsored Unit. Normally, my Den is made up of LDS boys, and I encourage them to earn the LDS Duty to God award. Last year I had a Catholic boy join our Den. I didn’t hand him the LDS Duty to God booklet and tell him, “you’re in an LDS sponsored unit, so you need to follow these guidelines.” Had I done that, I would have been reprimanded by my Unit and by the Council. Rather I found the guidelines for the Catholic church, gave him those and encouraged him to talk to his priest about earning their equivalent of the award. As I said, I am not LDS. My perception of my Duty to God is different than my LDS boys’, and I do not push my beliefs onto them any more than I allow them to push their beliefs onto anyone else. A gay boy should not be held up to the religious morals of an individual leader or group of leaders. There are many religions, even here in this state, that welcome homosexual members, and even have gay pastors. A member of the LDS faith may find this revolting, but as an organization, the BSA must accept that could be part of a boy’s faith, should not and must not interfere with that, and certainly shouldn’t deride that. When a Scout promises to do his duty to God, he is not promising to do it your way, but the way of his personal faith.

When it comes to being morally straight, I teach the BSA guideline: “Being morally straight means to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.” For a gay boy to live his life with honesty, he can’t deny who he is or how he feels. And strength of character comes from one’s confidence. Confidence that can only be built from living without fear of being yourself. You will note, it does not say “according to doctrine”. Why not? Because someone’s interpretation of doctrine can be drastically different from someone else’s.

The BSA is making the right decision. If a chartering organization wishes to reject gay members, it has that right under the new rule. And if that chartering organization is faith-based, they have the protection of the First Amendment for making that refusal. However, for those chartering organizations that don’t have an issue with gay membership, there is an opportunity for a boy to join a unit that can accept him for who he is and how he feels, and will allow him to achieve his Eagle. And why not? We already set up special units for special needs scouts, knowing that a regular unit often cannot meet the challenge of a mentally or severely handicapped Scout. So why should a chartering organization that seeks to be inclusive be forced to be exclusive? I understand from our District Executive that there is a concern (read: fear) that if the BSA allows gay members, that lawsuits will fall on local councils and onto the chartering organizations. However, the BSA has stated they will back any chartering organization who chooses to exclude gay membership, and I interpret that to be both ethically and legally. And, as I stated, when it’s a faith-based sponsor, the first amendment will protect them.

Our council may have one of the highest memberships, thanks in large part to LDS sponsorship, but you need to recognize there are many boys who don’t join because of their perception that it is “an LDS-only club” and many secular parents who would love to have their boys experience Scouting, but can’t let them join what they perceive to be a bigoted organization. Membership nationwide is down. There are many reasons for it, and this is a big one. We need to be brave and allow this change.