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