To Scout or Not to Scout

By: Wendy Rhein

As soon as he saw the little blue uniform on the boys not much older than he was selling popcorn outside the Safeway, Nate wanted to be a boy scout. The child has a thing for uniforms, and adventure, and probably most importantly a strong sense of civic duty. I take responsibility for that last one. The first two, not so much.

I was really torn about letting him join the Boy Scouts Association because of its homophobic reputation and regulations that the organization sadly reaffirmed this week.   I postponed the discussion.  I talked to him about the commitment, about what that would mean in relation to other activities.   I spent several weeks balancing his requests to join the local troop and my own sense of not endorsing or supporting such a place. We’re boycotters! We stand up for what we believe! We demonstrate our values with our time and money! Heck, it was this same kid who asked if we could stop going to Chik-Fil-A because a it was none of their business who loved whom!

It didn’t help that my mother told him that every president in the twentieth century was at one time a boy scout. His political aspirations already confirmed, this still-to-be-verified testimony only reinforced his pleas.

Over several months Nate would tell me about scouting. He wanted to earn badges, go camping, build a pinewood car (or have ME build the car), volunteer in his community, and sing Christmas carols at the senior center. And yes, all of those things sound great to me. I could see real value in him being a part of a group where adult men spent time with their children and offered supportive leadership to other boys. I could see the value in the organized community engagement and the skills and independence he could learn while building a rocket or making a campfire.  But I wanted that for ALL boys, not just the straight ones.

I walked into the local pack open house last fall with a real chip on my shoulder. I was, I admit, hoping he would hate it. I was hoping I might hate it. I sought out one of the leaders, introduced myself, pointed out that we were a family without a dad and would that be a problem? He laughed and started to point out all the single parents in the room. The gay couple and the family with not one but three moms. I calmed down a little.    As one would expect, Nate loved it.

So began the first of what I am sure will be years of soul searching about what to do when my beliefs and my children’s wants or desires collide.  I admit to being at a loss as to what to tell him about this group that he has come to love; the policies they hold that are ultimately counterintuitive to what I instill in my sons, and where that amorphous policy-making body fits with the more welcoming and open troop we see on weekends.    I am not inclined or interested in causing a seven year old the pain of choosing my (his?) beliefs over an activity he loves.  I am telling myself that if he was witnessing this in his own group, his own backyard, he would be able to tie to something real in his world and grasp it.

We are a scouting family. And I hate the national association policy to shun gay scouts and leaders. I hate it. I struggle with what action to take or not take, knowing that doing what would come naturally to me will really hurt my child and keep us away from some people we have come to call friends.   He isn’t alone in this either.  When I see my son standing straight and tall in his blue uniform, a little straighter and taller than normal, I am proud of him for finding something he loves and sticking with it.  Our troop is welcoming but I know not all of them are, much like not all schools, churches, temples, or families are. It was much simpler to answer when it was just me to consider, but who wants to hurt her own children?   Certainly not me and not those parents that have to tell their sons, the ones like mine who only want to camp, build cars from balsa wood, and sing Christmas carols at the senior center, that they are not welcome here.


Another Article on the Scouts

Scouts Choose to Bar Gays


  1. says

    Wendy, this is a tough one. I would side with my child on this one and as long as he knows that his troop is the right one, there are others that are not as welcoming. He will learn soon enough about the cruel world out there. Not sure at age 7 he has to find out it is not all badges, building cars and singing. I remember when my older son wanted to be a cub scout, we went to JC Penny’s to buy all the outfits gear, he went to a few meetings and then wore the uniform as a costume for Halloween. He decided it wasn’t for him. As long as your troop is welcoming I would let it go. Maybe he will become an Eagle Scout and speak out against the practices of the organization he loves.

  2. Robin says

    I can totally understand where you are coming from. And again, can’t fathom the Official policy vs the people I know who love scouts and are great reps – including one of my favorite openly gay Eagle Scouts. You’ve found a good group, that fits you, within the umbrella. Don’t have to like the umbrella. Take the parts that work, and have the discussions as they arise…which they will, about the homophobia issue and others. He’s getting old enough (and clearly smart enough) to know his mind and make his decisions as things come to light in his little life. Thanks for supporting him as you do.

  3. wendy says

    Believe EF it was a struggle and there are times still (obviously) that I question, but there are few things he is so committed to wanting to do. It is a balance of letting him grow into the person he is and wants to be and instilling my values, I suppose. FYI, girl scouts have no such policy so if that’s your reasoning, get a box of thin mints next time you see them!

  4. wendy says

    Thanks for the comment Madge. He hasn’t asked about it but I’m sure it will come up eventually. We do have a good troop, one of the by-products of living in an urban setting.

  5. Tricia says

    You are so thoughtful and your boy is amazing. You’ve made a great choice and let him do the same. I love that he asked to stop going to that chicken place! How did he get informed? I am just recently struggling with this Scouting issue. About a week ago Patrick expressed interest in being a scout for the first time. Not sure what brought it on. We talked about it a little and agreed to look into it in the Fall. I don’t know anything about the troop at his school so I want to explore a bit first with some other parents. Part of me hopes he’ll lose interest but on the other hand there are those positive aspects of scouting too. I love the idea of him singing carols at a senior center!

  6. Wendy says

    The Chik-fil-a issue is not a new one, even though it is currently getting a lot of attention. Several months ago we heard the comments made on NPR while in the car and Nathan asked if Mr. Cathey (who owns CFA) believed that two men or two women couldn’t fall in love and get married, and I said yes that was what he was saying. Nathan responded that who loves who is not the chicken man’s decision but God’s. Poor kid has been around me enough to know that we ‘vote with our money’ and so he said that we shouldn’t go there any more because we don’t agree with him. That’s where our boycott started.

    Check out the troop at the school. Ask a lot of questions. Go to a meeting and see who shows up. Every group is different, and he may love it!

  7. says


    This is so tough. If I had a boy I would not allow him into the scouts and would explain to him that they don’t treat all people equal so we don’t want to be a part of a group that does that. I would use the Chick Fil A example and so on.

    This is a very different example than the Boy Scouts, but it is one that has been discussed with our daughter her entire life. Back in the day when I was pregnant with her, my husband was falsely arrested at Toys R Us because of the color of his skin. It is a long, horrible story, but long story short, because of what happened our daughter has never, ever been to a Toys R Us. She is now 17. Based on the racist actions we experienced by the local and corporate Toys R Us we have told her throughout the years that we will never step foot in a store or give our money to a company that doesn’t treat people equally. When she was little we had to explain it in very basic terms but now that she is going off to college she totally appreciates our choice. Again it’s a very different situation because she is not learning skills from a Toys R Us but when it comes to kiddos and what they really want the example is similar.

    I understand your choice because you want him to participate in the activities and learn things that can be used going forward, but me personally, I would not have allowed him to join. No disrespect to you at all. I just don’t feel right about being part of an organization that discriminates. So sad that ignorant adults ruin it for innocent children.

    Amy Wise
    Interracial Fams

  8. says

    Fabulous post, Wendy. We’re not quite ready for scouts yet… though I expect it to be something my son wants to do because a lot of his friends do it with their dads. But I’ve also struggled with a similar kind of balance with my son’s Catholic pre-school… balancing what the catholic church preaches about gay marriage against my kid’s need for a community of friends, balancing what the catholic church teaches by example about the inequality of men and women against the desire to have my child in a pre-school in the small community where I work. As you said “We are boycotters!” And we stand up for what we believe in and I struggle with big issues when the thing I want to stand up for isn’t convenient or, in some cases, necessary. I don’t know. One step at a time. One principle at a time. One lesson at a time. This parenting thing is pretty cool, isn’t it?!

  9. Wendy says

    I appreciate your comment Amy and understand where you’re coming from. Your decision and personal experience rings true to me on many levels and it has been on my mind as I considered the scouting issue. I wonder if it can really be so black and white (tongue in cheek choice of words) though, not feeling right being part of an organization or institution that discriminates – how does that resonate with the fact that in many states same sex couples can’t marry? All I’m suggesting is that the balance of social commitment to inclusiveness and one’s personal life choices is a hard one to strike.

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