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May 03, 2012

It's 2012 And The Boy Scouts Still Don't Like Gay People

Jennifer Tyrell and sonA youth organization is only as good as its adult leadership. Whatever the group’s focus, the quality of the experience is driven primarily by the passion and dedication of the coaches, mentors, leaders, instructors, and others who volunteer their time to get in the trenches and make it happen. So why in the world would such a group ever ask a perfectly capable adult leader, a person liked and praised by people throughout their community, to step aside? 

If that group is the Boy Scouts, it might be because the person was gay. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post where I discussed the conflict I felt with regards to whether I wanted my boys to be in scouting due to their discriminatory policy with regards to homosexual individuals. I’m an Eagle Scout and I spent a lot of great years in scouting, both as a member and later as a summer camp counselor, so I’ve got a lot of love for what scouting has to offer. My feeling at the time was that, as abhorrent as the policy is, the overall scouting experience is largely dependent on the locality and the leaders of an individual troop. To a certain extent, that’s true. But when I read the recent story about Jennifer Tyrell and her son, I realized just how limited that extent is. In case you haven’t read about it, Tyrell’s seven-year-old son was a Cub Scout and she was a den leader, and from everything I’ve read, a damn good one. But then somebody decided that all of her volunteering and all of her hard work and all the support she had from the pack’s parents just couldn’t make up for her sexual orientation. The local council office received a complaint and she was told to step down. And yes, it was because she was gay.

Can you imagine? What kind of sorry excuse for a human being puts in such a complaint? You can just picture them, speaking in hushed tones, perhaps cupping their hand over their mouth, afraid that someone might hear them using words like “gay” or “homosexual” for fear they might be mistaken for anything other than fresh-from-the-arrow-factory straight. They had absolutely no regard for the kind of hurt they would inflict upon Tyrell, her family, or the boys in her pack. 

A few weeks back, before this hit the news, I took my son to his first Cub Scout meeting, just to see what he thought of it. They met at a church down the road from our house. The boys were a solid blend of rowdy, friendly, and respectful. The leaders all seemed like nice folks. They made terrariums out of water bottles. My son had a good time. I’d love to let him continue. 

But as I was mulling all this over, a question occurred to me - would I let my kids join a group that discriminated against African-Americans? Against Hispanics? Asian-Americans? Jews? Special needs kids? The answer is obvious. Which is to say, the answer became obvious. 

The response in Tyrell's community was heartening. They organized a protest to demand she be reinstated. In every story I read about the case, there was quote after quote from parents who loved the work she was doing and couldn't understand why she was dismissed.An online petition (which I urge you to go sign) has garnered over 250,000 signatures. And just a couple of days ago, an official with the Boy Scout council where Tyrell's pack was located resigned in protest, urging the B.S.A. to reconsider their policy.

On the other hand, the B.S.A.’s response has been, to put it mildly, laughable. All of the official statements I’ve seen sound pretty much like this one, which was sent from a B.S.A. spokesperson to LZ Granderson at CNN:

"Our focus is on delivering the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Our mission does not include teaching young people about sex or sexual orientation, and we do not believe it is Scouting's role to introduce this topic in our youth development program."

Right there in that first sentence, you see that? The implied claim that simply being gay is inconsistent with character development and strong values. And right on its heels, the assumption that gay people are defined solely by their sexual orientation and have nothing else to offer but constant babble about sex and how much they love being gay, so much so that they can’t even shut up about it when they find themselves in a room full of Cub Scouts. It’s a toned-down version of the “all homosexuals are pedophiles” argument of yesteryear, but it’s just as noxious, just as harmful, and just as much of a lie.

And really, if they didn’t want to make an issue of sexual orientation, why are they making an issue of sexual orientation? You think the boys in Tyrell’s pack aren’t asking their parents why she left?

And while I’m still mad, I’ll go you one further - why is teaching young people about sex and sexual orientation a bad thing? Age-appropriately, of course. Sure, talking to a group of boys about sex is certain to be a chucklefest and a half, but if scouting’s mission is centered around youth development with the end goal being adults of character with strong values, then it doesn’t seem right to completely ignore an entire facet of human development. Remember, every one of those little chuckleheads is a potential unplanned teen pregnancy waiting to happen.

I said it before and I’ll say it again - I loved scouting. That’s part of why this all pisses me off so much. Here you’ve got this incredible organization with all this history and all these resources and so many great things to teach, but then right there in the middle like a festering sore is this blatant bigotry. The Girl Scouts has no such policy, nor does Camp Fire, nor does Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Hell, no less than the United States military did away with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And while the rule no doubt has its supporters, I’d be willing to bet that an enormous percentage of the people involved in Boy Scouts today would like to see it done away with. So why, in 2012, is such discrimination still in place? 

I think we can guess.

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