We are an open-minded family from Northern California who is new to scouting. At our local scout shop, our boys tried on their new scouting uniforms with pride and excitement, their thoughts churning with possibility. Fishing. Camping. The Pinewood Derby. As they paraded about the store in their navy blue scouting uniforms, I cringed a little.
I'd been long aware of the Boy Scouts record of excluding gays, especially at the leadership level. In a story that breaks my heart, a Bay Area scout called Ryan is being denied his Eagle scout ranking because he is gay. For his project, the ambitious prospective Eagle scout built and created a Tolerance Wall. The irony is not lost here.
Does wearing a Boy Scout uniform represent our support for this anti-gay policy? Is our membership in the organization a silent vote against homosexuals in scouting?
Certainly, this is not the message I would want to convey. If there were a rainbow colored merit badge called Tolerance, I'd make my boys earn one. We would refer to it as the Ryan badge, after the boy who is owed his Eagle scout ranking.
The Boy Scouts of America does not specify Christianity as a requirement of membership; one needs only to have a faith, be it Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and so on.
An Eagle scout friend of mine explained the Boy Scouts anti-gay policy as this: "There is quite simply an extremely practical reason for this policy and that is the largest donator of meeting space to the Boy Scouts by far are churches which are they themselves often fairly fervently homophobic. The BSA would in all likelihood collapse without the church backing it gets, and until the churches change their positions, there will probably not be a policy change on the national level. "
When we made the decision to have our boys join scouting, it was for myriad positive reasons. We joined scouting for a sense of community and adventure, for a chance to make new friends and connect as a family, and for the chance to do STEM projects and earn merit badges. The organization's anti-gay stance hasn't yet been noticed by my children, but I see it as a dark cloud looming over what has so far been a positive scouting experience.
In my social circles, many are adamant that they'd never allow their sons to join the Boy Scouts, as they are strictly opposed to the intolerance and bigotry at the national level. I say the Boy Scouts offers my boys vast positive opportunities and if we can exist and perhaps even effect change as tolerant individuals within an intolerant organization, then our presence sends a message against homophobia. We can aim to make changes in the organization from within its ranks. My boys hail from a heritage that has seen discrimination and they are beginning to understand the lessons learned from that experience.
If you share my views, what would you do with your sons? Am I sending my sons the wrong message by affiliating with an organization whose views at the highest level I oppose? Have you left the Boy Scouts or refused to have your children join, due to the organization's policies against gays?
Akemi Bourgeois is a Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru and mom to twin boys. They live in the Bay Area. She writes at Chalk and Cheese Chronicles and is the former editor of the blog, Mad About Multiples. She is an editor at Technorati Women. Follow her on Twitter: svtwinmom.