Why Boy Scouts of America Should Accept Gay and Bisexual Members
As has been widely reported, in the near future there is a strong likelihood that the National Council for the Boy Scouts of America may convene, and that during this convention they would vote on a change to the national by-laws for the organization that would allow Area Councils or individual Troops to choose to lift the current ban on accepting openly gay, bisexual, and other non-heterosexual oriented men and boys. For an organization as old and as publicly homophobic as the BSA, even the potential for such a vote to swing in favor of progressive, albeit moderated, acceptance is a large step. As a former Scout, I do not think the current proposal goes far enough.
I grew up as an active member of the BSA. My parents enrolled me during my first year of grade school, and I remained a member until a combination of school requirements, poor area Troops, and an increasingly full event calendar essentially forced me to drop out. Nevertheless, I gave 10 years of my life to the BSA. I attended the weekly meetings, in uniform. I joined every monthly hike, camping trip, or canoeing trip that I could. Every summer from the time I was first eligible, I attended a week of camp. Courtesy of the High Adventure program, I spent a week in a replica schooner in the Florida Keys. Because of the efficient organization of the BSA, I have hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail, I have attended regional Camporees, I have learned First Aid, how to properly care for a rifle, how to tie elaborate knots, how to whip and fuse rope, and how to be both a good leader and a good follower. The lessons I learned as a member were invaluable, and carry with me still.
Some of the core tenets of Scouting that I learned and embraced are contained with the Boy Scout Oath. While I will not recite the entire Oath here, I will focus on the key tenets that apply to the current debate over proper acceptance of members who do not fit the hetero-normative mold. “On my honor… I will do my duty… to help other people at all times … to keep myself … mentally awake and morally straight.” Those tenets apply strongly to this fight. Allow me to break them down.
On my honor … I will do my duty
This notion of honor is as old as men, it seems, yet it stands as an early call to the boys and young men within Scouting to hold oneself accountable for one’s actions even if no other person is around to bear witness. That the Scout Oath begins with this phrase is key, for it tells us that a person who will carry himself with honor must always hold himself to the tenets he will soon recite. He is placing himself in the company of the knights of old, of the armed forces of today, and even of the Klingons of Star Trek when he places such a strong focus on honor. Immediately thereafter, as part of being honorable, he is reminded that he has a duty which must be performed. Duty is not a matter of convenience, to be turned on and off on a whim. Duty requires doing that which we may not like, may not enjoy, or even agree with at the moment, in order to perform the tasks that are necessary to remain honorable. This duty, then, supercedes orders from ranking Scouts within the organization and the Scout Masters who organize and guide the Troop.
To help other people at all times
This is what I believe to be the single most important aspect of the Scout Oath. The duty of selfless assistance, of reaching out to other people in need, is the driving force behind performing good in the community. The National Guard is often shown as an example of helping others during times of natural disaster or emergency; so too do the local Troops organize and mobilize to help as they can in disaster recovery. Crews are mobilize to assist with cleanup, or help in soup kitchens, or distribute food and clothing in hard hit areas. The notion of lending a hand to those who need it is the core function of the BSA.
This help should be extended to those seeking equal civil rights. Sadly, this extension has never come easily to the BSA, as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was slow to reach local Troops. That the BSA openly supported racism stands as a telling prediction of how the National Council may proceed in the current fight for equal rights in the LGBTQ community.
To keep myself … mentally awake and morally straight
The continuing duty of a Scout, even after he has moved on from being a member of a Troop, is to maintain a sense of clear thought and moral aptitude that supports the previous tenet of providing help. In this fashion, one must always evaluate not only how others are treated within the community and seek to lend aid but also to introspectively monitor one’s own prejudices and adjust them accordingly. This portion of the Scout Oath, then, becomes magnificently important as a guide as to whether Gay and Bisexual boys and men should be accepted into Troops. To continue to discriminate against an entire community of people on the basis of illogical prejudice is an injustice to the cause of remaining mentally awake. To actively participate in homophobic behavior is to actively reject the morally correct position of lending assistance to the oppressed. The policy of discrimination, then, is nothing less than a direct and preposterous disavowing of the Scout Oath.
In all my years of Scouting, while fully aware of my Bisexual orientation, I never once sought to do anything less than uphold the virtues of the Scout Oath. I proudly stood for the traits extolled within the Scout Law. I learned teamwork, cooperation, leadership, and the value of completing daunting tasks. Not once did I ever seek to “convert” any of my fellow Troop members to my sexuality. Not once did I ever encourage or partake in a sexual act with a fellow Scout. What I did do, every day, even when I felt I had more important things to do, was do my best to do my duty to help other people at all times.
The members of the National Council need to remember and serve The Oath when they convene to vote.
Stay SINful, friends.