BSA Ending Its BS?

Congratulations, Boy Scouts.

After far too long, you’re ready to do the right thing. You’re finally going to live up to your own “law.” You know, the one about being loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind.

You’re going to allow gay people into the Boy Scouts of America.

And only a year after the Marines and the rest of the military said “gay is okay”!

As a gay man, I’ve found it hard reconciling what I know about Westport’s Boy Scouts with the self-serving blather coming out of BSA headquarters in Texas.

BSA 1I know the leaders of our 2 local troops are decent, open-minded men. I know that Troops 39 and 100 are well-organized and compassionately run. Both do many good deeds for our town.

And I know that plenty of gay teenagers have enjoyed being part of those troops. Some have become Eagle Scouts.

Still, I found it uncomfortable supporting those troops. They asked me to buy their candy. They wanted me to announce their Christmas tree pick-up project on “06880.”

Yet by supporting our local Boy Scouts — no matter how welcoming they are — wasn’t I in some way supporting a group that would not support me? One that, more importantly, sends a strong message to young people — gay and straight — that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not only allowed, but demanded?

My dilemma grew when a Staples student invited me to his Eagle ceremony. I’d helped with his project — it involved some of Westport’s oldest cemeteries — and he proudly asked me to witness the pinnacle of his Scouting career.

Eagle ScoutA Court of Honor ceremony is a big deal. I understood its importance to the troop, to him and his family. He’s a great, talented young man. I wanted to be there for him.

But I feared that would be hypocritical. I’d turn my back on the thousands of teenagers who do not live in Westport — and who either hide their sexual orientation from the Scouts, or (worse) are viciously booted out by them.

I went to the ceremony. But the next day, I wrote the new Eagle Scout a letter.

I congratulated him on his very impressive achievement. I thanked him for the invitation. And I said:

You have my utmost respect for your perseverance, skill, enthusiasm and devotion to Scouting.  It is clear you have gained an enormous amount from your years in the Boy Scouts of America, and have given much back in return.

But I would not be true to my own ideals if I did not convey my personal feelings about the BSA.  Please understand that this has nothing whatsoever to do with you.  My issue is with the national organization.

BSA logo

The many wonderful words that were spoken yesterday about Scouting – and I do not disagree with them – were undermined by the fact that, as a gay man, I could never legally be part of your organization.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called “Friends and Family: True Stories of Gay America’s Straight Allies.”  One of my favorite chapters was on Steven Cozza.  He was 14 when I interviewed him, and an Eagle Scout.  He loved the Boy Scouts, but he also felt the organization was not living up to its own ideals.  He started an organization called Scouting For All, which for several years has worked to get the BSA to change its policies.  He’s been unsuccessful so far – despite a million signatures on his petitions.

When I asked him why he was doing this – and whether people thought he was gay (he’s not) – he said simply, “It’s the right thing to do.”

I believe the same about you.  Your voice on stage has reached many people.  Now, as an Eagle Scout, I hope you’ll raise your voice on this issue, at an appropriate time.  As an Eagle Scout, your voice will be heard.

BSA rainbow

If I had not gone yesterday, I would not have heard the charge to “do a good deed daily” – to make a difference in someone’s life.  It reminded me of a quote from the anthropologist Margaret Mead.  She said:   “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”

As a recent high school graduate, and now an Eagle Scout, you have a wonderful opportunity to help change the world.  If you do the best you can – if you’re the best person you can possibly be – then you will truly live up to the ideals of the vow you took yesterday.

I’ve got my money on you.

Some time later, he wrote back. He thanked me, and promised to do what he could.

Perhaps his voice was one of those that — half a decade later — made an impact. I’m not sure.

But I do know this: If the Boy Scouts do change their hateful, mindless policy next week, all Scouts — gay and straight; in Westport, and across America — will be one step closer to living up to their beloved organization’s own values.

51 responses to “BSA Ending Its BS?

  1. A reader named Jack sent along this comment (he had trouble posting it):

    “I think the BSA did the right thing in reversing their ban. I’m not familiar with this subject, but did the Girl Scouts have the same policy in banning lesbian women in their organization?”

    The answer is, the Girl Scouts did NOT have the same policy regarding lesbians. For decades, they have been known as a very lesbian-friendly organization!

  2. Nicely written Dan.
    No matter what the organization, as we grow in society and as a nation, we CAN NOT judge on sexual orientation or for anything in that matter. It’s time to move forward and get in the times of what’s going on around us and respect “all people.”

  3. Not that there's anything wrong with it

    Don’t get too critical of the BSA, your president was against gay marriage up until a few months ago and only did it for political expedience, even going as far to have Biden float the idea for public reaction before coming out for it. Yeah a real leader for change.
    And as I’m sure you’re aware of there being plenty of stories of Obama being a familiar face around he Chicago bathhouse scene.
    So lets not single out a great organization who intentions were good to protect the kids in a time when homosexuality was considered a deviant lifestyle and gays had to live a secretive life without many outlets for meeting.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      “Your president”! And who,may I ask, is your president?

    • I don’t understand the logic or relevance of your comments to Dan’s post. Are you suggesting we should not be critical of BSA’s policy because our president (I mean Dan’s President) was once opposed to gay marriage?

      Scouting is, indeed, a great organization – one that has had a huge and positive influence on my life – and I can understand why they may have ignorantly banned gays in the past. But they persist with their discrimination in these more modern, supposedly more enlightened times. Even another great organization I was part of, the United States Marine Corps, is way ahead of BSA on such things.

      As far as Dan’s president (whom I like to consider my president, and the president of the United States as well) speaking in favor of marriage equality for purely political reasons, I don’t agree. But regardless of his motives, it is still the right thing to do and a huge step in the right direction. I hope the GOP learns that accepting and promoting gay rights and equality can be politically beneficial; it will only make our country better and stronger.

      President Obama has done more to help advance and promote gay rights than any president in history – including leading efforts to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, speaking on behalf of marriage equality, and working to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Republican members of Congress just committed yet another $3 million of taxpayer’s money to defend. Whatever Obama’s motives, he is indeed a leader for gay rights and equality, even if a reluctant leader (although I believe it truly comes from his heart).

      And what does the remote possibility that Obama may have once visited gay bathhouses have to do with anything? I’m baffled by that one. Are you saying that we shouldn’t be critical of BSA’s discriminatory policies because the President may be closeted?

    • If Obama was gay, the Republicans would have been all over that during the first election. So we have a gay, Muslim President born in Kenya. What color is the sky in the world the Republicans live in?

  4. This blog post makes me shake my head. Really, Dan?

    • Why does this make you shake your head? Why? It takes courage to stand up for who one authentically is. As long as mankind and the animal kingdom have existed, there has also existed homosexuality within life itself – it’s part of nature just as heterosexuality is. I’ve belonged to an organization that I’ve recently found out really does not allow for gay people to enter and be open about who they are, or to take certain offices, etc. or even become members if they are upfront about their sexual orientation. Although I’m not gay, that totally is unacceptable to me and plan on working for change. It is these archaic attitudes that have to go and our young people need our support in this as well. The BSA should have done this many years ago. As long as there are humans on the earth, there will be various sexual orientations. It’s none of our business who someone chooses to love in their private life — just how they act — do they act with integrity, kindness, tolerance, good will, make valuable contributions to society, and so forth. So, I do not shake my head at this post but glad Dan addressed the topic. It’s for all of our country to get over this prejudice finally.

  5. Not that there's anything wrong with it

    You may have not seen this on the Huffington Post –

    • Dude this is birthed, truther nonsense and its not Huffignton Post. Corsica is one of the original Swift Boaters.

    • Are you being consciously devious.Your post is From a Conservative right wing newsletter, WFD, NOT the Huffington Post. As you don’t identify yourself ( what a surprise), are you secretly a late news news person on FOX news?

      • Sorry to but in but, Gary, why does it matter?

        • Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson

          Because FOX lies, all the time.

          • If anyone cares, you can Google the story of Obama’s escapades and get about 2,700,000 hits. It is a cottage industry; people write books and sell magazine articles based on this topic. It is good for the economy.

          • What does FOX (and I think you mean Fox News Channel) have anything to do Dan complaining about the Boy Scout’s treatment of gay rights? I’m confused.

  6. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    To anyone who is tempted to be critical; just apply the “Golden Rule” and you’ll know what to do.

  7. Well said Dan. Like the RC Church, BSA has a lot of merit, but not previously on this front.

  8. Estelle T. Margolis

    Thank you for another wonderful column. The Margaret Mead quote you have printed has been on our bulleting board right near the door I use every leave the house. The last time I took time to read it and think about it was when I went to the RTM meeting on January 8th.

    • It's just friction

      According to the statute, if you were a Boy Scout, you would have had specific rights carved out allowing you to carry a bb gun in public (though not in Town Hall). Fortunately, that right will now be extended to gay bb gun enthusiasts, too.

    • U. Zooelly N. Trouble

      So that’s why you didn’t think about what would happen by bringing your Wal-Mart arsenal to the RTM!!!! Too busy contemplating the philosophies of a dead woman. Everybody admired Margaret Mead so you’re not alone. however, inability to multi-task may not be a defense in court. I hope they dismiss, for everybody’s sake.

  9. My impression of the BSA’s new policy is that it won’t punish those troops who welcome gay youth into their ranks. This is a far cry from approval or acceptance on a national level. The BSA has long taken the low road in issues of equality and fairness. From their tacit support of the Mormon church’s then policy of discrimination against blacks to it’s outright ban on gay membership. And through it all, the BSA responded to questions from within with, quite simply, “mind your own business”. My father was a scouting volunteer from the time he graduated from high school to the time that i did the same. We both ended our involvement with BSA over their circle the wagons attitude concerning these issues.

    No doubt this is a step forward for them. But I see many miles for them to go.

    Good on you Dan. I don’t shake my head, I nod it.

  10. Totally agree and beautifully said!

  11. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    If the military can accept gays in a dangerous environment, the BSA can accept them in a safe one. Acceptance is such a condescending term, however. I wouldn’t want to put on a uniform for sanyone who just “accepted” me. I’d want them to be as committed to their ideals as they would expect me to be.

    • The problem is there are no common ideals so why put on the uniform? And what is true in the case of the BSA is true for the country as a whole; we do not have common ideals.

  12. The good news is, years from now people will look back at this–just as we now look back at a time when there were separate water fountains based on race–and wonder: how could we have ever let individuals be treated this way? Hopefully, similar strides forward will continue to be made in the very near future so that no one will ever have to think about covering up their sexual orientation.

  13. It’s something, but it isn’t everything. In the good old days, the BSA held the same position on race: “We take no stand and leave it to local troops to decide.” The result: decades of segregated troops in the South. Waiting for Scouting to make a sweeping declaration on this issue will probably take as long as waiting for the federal government to make gay marriage legal at the federal level.

    • There’s a difference between what one player says, and what an institution writes into its rules. The 49ers owner has strongly condemned the comments, and at least 28 NFL players have spoken up over the past couple of weeks in support of any gay player who decides to come out.

      • Agree. And in no way does any of this refelect my personal views.
        I have friends of all backgrounds including gay and lesbian; all wonderful people.

  14. While it certainly doesn’t go far enough, should the BSA adopt the policy that’s on the table it would be a big step in the right direction. I am a firm believer that change comes from within an organization, so as local troops are permitted to become explicitly inclusive and continue to operate in a positive way, I have hope that the national organization ultimately will take the bigger next step and disavow discrimination in its entirety. In the interest of full discourse, I am the mother of a scout in one of the local troops and am very proud of all he’s learned, accomplished and given back to the community through his involvement. It’s always been very difficult for me to reconcile all of the virtues of BSA with its faults. But, our troop has always espoused the virtues of inclusion and tolerance, and they’re a group of people with whom I am unquestionably proud to be associated.

  15. Christopher Stevens

    I was a member of troop 100 for years when I was growing up. It was a powerful force that helped me develop strong values, good friendships, confidence and a life long appreciation for the outdoors. But I have the same dilemma that Dan outlines in his post. How can I continue to support an organization that take such a bigoted public stance, that says to many young men ‘you are not good enough, you are not wanted, you are wrong.’

    The answer is I can not. Until the Scouts change there policy (and in my mind that change should be a clear statement against discrimination, not simply a removal of the ban) I have had to withdraw my support. Very reluctantly I might add. This issue fills me with great sadness. I also do not see it as an LGBT issue alone. Rather I believe it is about the fundamental values of the organization. Will the BSA be an organization that is inclusive, supportive and affirming, or will it stand on the side of discrimination, exclusion and shaming?

    My wife and I are expecting our first child, and if I have a son I would love nothing more for him to be a part of a BSA that put this ban firmly behind it and is moving forward with a more just and open policy.

  16. It would be great if the BSA would lift their ban on atheists.

  17. Why would any child’s parents choose to enroll them in Boy Scouts when there is this unacceptable, ignorant prejudice and there are so many alternative clubs, organizations in the area that offer the same instruction in hobbies? Any good this organization offers is eclipsed by what their prejudice apparently does.

  18. Dan, thanks so much for writing this. Well done.
    I grew up in Westport very active in Scouting. My father, Ed Stalling, was Scoutmaster of Troop 36 for nearly 30 years (we held meetings at the historic Saugatuck Congregational Church on the Post Road), and he was an Eagle Scout, as are me and two of my brothers, Ed and Bob. I spent my summers between the ages of 15-19 working at the Boy Scout Camp once known as Camp Mawehu, later renamed Camp Aquila, on the northern shores of Lake Candlewood near New Milford and Sherman. (Unfortunately, the camp has since been sold and developed).
    Scouting had a huge and positive influence on my life, instilling in me a love for wildlife and wild places and even shaping my chosen life-long career in the wildlife conservation profession. It also instilled in me concepts of service to country and others (I served in the Marine Corps after my years in Scouting, and have spent most my life working for nonprofits) and notions of honesty and integrity – well, to a point. Unfortunately (and to be fair it wasn’t just Boy Scouts in those days) I was not comfortable accepting and being all of my true self. I was brought up believing that to be sexually and emotionally attracted to the same sex was a sickness and made me a freak. As a result, I tried hard to be something I was not. Because of societal pressures, norms and expectations – which were perpetuated by the Boy Scouts — I chose to be “straight.” (That didn’t go so well for me, for those of you who think sexuality is a choice).
    The Boys Scouts of America has been slow to catch up to the rest of society, even the Marine Corps, but I am very glad they seem to finally be headed in the right direction.
    The negative individual and societal consequences of people being fearful to accept, embrace and be themselves are serious and run deep. It results in self hatred, self judgment, shame and guilt. It results in bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence. It results in a lack of freedom and equality for all. Missing out on the fundamental emotional and psychological growth that most people are openly able and even encouraged to experience – such as first crushes, first dates, first relationships, first sexual experiences, first love, first heartbreaks – can and does result in a form of arrested development (something that still effects me and my behavior even today at the age of 52.)
    We’ve come a long way but have a long way to go: According to the U.S. government, hate crimes rose 13% in 2010, and there is an annual average of 191,000 hate crimes each year with 18% of those committed against gays and lesbians. And since we gays and lesbians make up a small percentage of our population, crimes against us are six times higher than the overall rate. Young people are affected, perhaps more so. Nine out of 10 gay and lesbian teens report being bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gay teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other teens, five times more likely to miss school out of fear, and 28% do, indeed, drop out. Last year an 18-year old Texas man was slain by a classmate for being gay, and a 24-year old Florida lesbian was killed by her girlfriend’s father. Much of this, no doubt, derives from institutional biases, bigotry and exclusion by many churches and organizations such the Boy Scouts of America.
    Of course, there always have been gay Boys Scouts and Scout leaders – we just had to hide, suppress or deny a huge part of our identity. The good, positive changes finally occurring will result in healthier individuals and a healthier society.

  19. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    Rather than abandoning their cherished ideals, BSA welcoming all who wish to join and meet those ideals would be fulfilling their potential 175 years after Lord Baden-Powell set their guiding principals down.

  20. Yet more than one decade since I learned about the BSA’s anti-gay policy—and more than 20 years since achieving the rank of Eagle Scout—I am more than ashamed that I did not take action sooner. Indeed, for the last two decades, I thought: “once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout.” No more.

  21. Pro-gay folks, I hear you too. This isn’t the best possible policy, but it may be the best practical one — and it’s certainly the only one that’s on the table right now. Compromise with and compassion for those who find us objectionable might even be the best way to change their minds in the long run.

  22. I don’t normally post but I read much of what goes in the comments section, so I am aware of who many who post are. I am former Eagle Scout. Yes–former. I turned in all the well-earned Eagle Badges and adornments months ago simple because I no longer qualified. It was simple- if you are gay, you are not a scout. And as a scout the #1 Rule is: “A Scout is trustworthy,” to lie, especially within a Scout context. would be against everything scouts taught me. I can get into politics but for me it was a simple decision: I was not being trustworthy by remaining in an organization who had banned gay admission. So by the Scouts’ own core law, I made that decision. I don’t need a badge to tell me what I learned in Scouts (which was wonderful and a beautiful supplement to my morals: kind, obedient, gentle etc).

    They can keep the mementos and adornments and I will keep my fond memories of Klondikes weekends with my father in sub-zero camping, Order of the Arrow Ceremonies, and all the great experiences I experienced.

    I am glad to see some progress but at this stage it sounds more like DOMA.
    I stand with several thousand other Eagle scouts and officials who have also renounced their badges and affiliation. Perhaps that got their attention.

  23. The reactions highlight the dual nature of the proposed policy , which delegates decisions about who to include (and exclude) to local troop leaders. On one hand, the policy doesn’t actually force Boy Scout troops to include gay scouts and leaders, or anyone else they hadn’t before; it just gives the go-ahead to troops who do want to open up membership . On the other hand, the policy is essentially conservative: it rejects the central planning of a national organization in much the same way American conservatives reject the idea that D.C. “bureaucrats” know better than they do.

  24. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    So, is the bottom-line that the free market will remedy the situation? Bullshit!! What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.

    • To a post-modern leftist,aka progressive, there is no right and wrong. Words have no fixed meaning and all morality is situational. So, you are free to make it up as it suits your purpose. Isn’t that convenient?

  25. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    A leftist is a little to the left of a progressive, just as a rightist is a little to the right of a conservative. In the end, it will fall to those in between to clean up the mess that both have caused. Bringing in lawyers and insurance companies over fallen trees that straddle your property line is just enriching them at society’s expense.

  26. QUESTION? Would you let your 12-17 age daughter go camping and sleep in a tent with boys aged 12-17…or would you let daughter going camping in the moutains with adult males who are not her relatives? Of course Not…that would be asking for trouble. So why would ANYONE allow their boy to go camping with a gay boy or a gay adult. Homosexuals DO NOT belong in scouting!! The BSA is a Private Relgious Organization that has every right to protect its scouts! The Gay left is just trying to FORCE their way into any organization…. If gays really wanted to be scouts, they would have started their OWN organziation decades ago. Now they try to bully..and force their way into any group that does not approve of their deviant lifestlye. This is AMERICA!! Believe in Freedom and Liberty not Force and Facism under the B.S. notion of “Equality” Being a private organzation and determining your own rules is American as the constitution….forcing your will onto others IS UN AMERICAN!

    • Actually forcing your will on others is as American as apple pie. The primary function of government is to force people to do what they do not want to do. The trick is to acquire enough poltical weight to force your will on others. These issues are not a matter of right and wrong; they are strictly speaking manifestations of power, might makes right.

      • I’m sure you feel that the government is imposing it’s will on you… though actually I don’t think the government is involved in this issue at all. But you fail to see how a national policy discriminating against a certain group is also the imposition of the will of the majority (heterosexual) on a sexual minority. You cry that you are being oppressed as a justification to deny others the same access to groups and rights that you have. Can-C Eye Drops also seems to be equating homosexuality with sexual aggression or assault. While women are often victims of sexual violence at the hands of men (and as a result need sanctuaries) there is no reason to think that your kids are in any more danger from assault from a gay leader or fellow scout than they are from a straight one. And if you think same sex sexual experimentation doesn’t occur between kids who consider themselves straight, you are… out of touch. Excluding people who identify openly as gay does not make your kids safer, and including them doesn’t put them at more risk.

        They idea that by asking that the BSA include gay scouts and leaders is ‘forcing your will on others’ is ridiculous. The majority in this country has ‘forced it’s will’ on the LGBT community for decades. Example if you don’t believe in Gay marriage don’t attend one… or don’t marry someone of the same sex… but don’t force your will on people in the LGBT community who do want to get married by denying them that right.

        And if you want to prevent gay scouts and leaders from being in your troops, talk to your local counsel. It’s my understanding that the decision in question is whether to remove the national ban and allow individual communities to decide (which I disagree with, but that is another argument). Why would you ‘force your will’ on other communities that feel differently from yours?

        • We have national policies that discriminate against all sorts of groups for strictly political purposes. The SSS discriminates against young males. Many find this sort of discrimination “in the public interest.” Those who oppose one form of discrimination often favor another; hypocrisy. Those who favor the extension of one set of rights oppose the extension of another. I don’t see any principled opposition to discrimination or the denial of personal freedoms.

  27. The BSA must take action to treat gay rights as what they are: Human rights. They must reverse their policy entirely and allow every boy the same opportunity to be a part of scouting, regardless of who he loves.