Newsflash: Sexuality Is Already in Scouting

I ran across this article from May1, from yet another conservative Christian Scouter who seems to be convinced that by accepting gay Scouts into the BSA, the end is near for all morality in the Scouting program. As comments are closed, my responses are here. I hope the author’s blog registers the trackback and he sees it.

First, the condescending tone in the post (see the paragraph about liberals and “the choir”) makes it clear that he thinks there is absolutely no discussion that can be had, nothing to learn from an alternate point of view. This is the kind of closed mind that is the most dangerous to any youth program anywhere. Leaders need to balance between a firm and strong sense of what their pillars are and the willingness to learn new insight from those of opposing views. The only people that Jesus didn’t waste his time with were the Pharisees – the ones whose minds were rigid and unyielding.

Second, I agree 100% with him about the need to ensure that no overt acts of sexuality (regardless of orientation) have any place in the Scouting program. However, if he really thinks that sexuality is not already in Scouting, I have unwelcome news for him:

  • I remember from my own time as a Scout: when the Scoutmasters aren’t around, there’s a large amount of sexual humor and indoctrination that gets passed around from boy to boy. From fairly benign (calling Scout camp “memories without mammaries”) to merely inappropriate (streaking through a camp site) to more potentially unhealthy activities and peer pressure, these activities were there when I was a boy. From what my son tells me, they’re still there today. He’s in a great troop with a lot of amazing leaders, but no matter how great the parents/leaders/boys, when you push a prevalent and powerful aspect of humanity under the carpet, it will find ways to express itself. Adolescence is exactly the time when the humans are dealing with powerful feelings of sexuality, for the first time, and it is confusing. Scouters are often trusted adults, especially when the boys don’t have a good relationship with their parents.
  • As Scouters we have to model responsible behavior to our Scouts, including appropriate forms of sexuality. Sexuality is far more than physical intimacy; it includes our attitudes on gender, orientation, sexual roles, and more. Our Scouts watch us closely; if we are disrespectful of women and dismissive of non-masculine men (as many Scouters frequently are), they will learn that behavior is appropriate and they will indulge in it too.
  • Alaric attended the recent National Scout Jamboree. The Jamboree selection process, if you’re not familiar, limits the number of Scouts per council; there’s an interview and recommendation process that in theory ensures the Scouts who went to Jamboree are living the Scout Oath and Law. Yet despite all the precautions, they had problems with Scouts treating the female youth attendees (American Venture Scouts and international Scouts) with a marked lack of respect, including peeping tom incidents at their showers. Sexuality (of the heterosexual nature) is alive and well in Scouting. The answer is not to ignore sex; it is to address it in the appropriate context and with the appropriate limits and boundaries for Scouting activities.

Third, expecting gay Scouts to be silent about their orientation, *even when they are following Scouting guidelines about sexual activities*, is explicitly unequal.

After all, how many times have you heard of a heterosexual Boy Scout declaring for all to hear that, “I’m a heterosexual and I’m sexually active and I lust after girls?” Why is it that the GLBT crowd needs to publicly share their sexual preferences? And why on earth would a parent go on national television, or go into a court of law, to show support for their teenage son’s sexual preference for other boys?

Heterosexual Scouts make that declaration (or have it made for them) on a regular basis. When there’s an adolescent joke about boobs, or Scouts ogle another Scout’s sister, heterosexual Scouts are non-verbally (but nevertheless clearly and loudly) making the declaration that they are heterosexual beings who are attracted to girls. That doesn’t mean that they are sexually active. It is not a hallmark of “the LGBT agenda” that parents don’t want their boys to be forced to assume a mantle of silence or be assumed to be sexually prolific just because they aren’t attracted to girls. Again, I’ll use poor Alaric as an example; I know he likes girls and I know what types he likes, as do his friends and members of his troop, but he feels no need (I like to think in part because he can be open with us) to become a sexually active fourteen year-old. This is because of his character, not because he likes girls.

The mistake the blog author makes here, and he makes it consistently, is to conflate “gay” with “sexually active.” There is no reason to assume that homosexual teenagers will be any more sexually active than heterosexual teenagers (and if he wants to dispute that, I’ll be happy to point him to the studies showing increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases among Christian, abstinence-only youth who engage in risky alternatives to vaginal intercourse, because their rigid upbringing gives no thought to failure modes). In fact, homosexual youth who have access to a variety of caring, responsible adult role models are more likely to make informed, intelligent choices about sex. If the author really wants to keep kids from acts he believes are immoral, he can do far worse than encourage them to get into Scouting where they can be around leaders and other boys who will help reinforce the desired standard of behavior.

Finally, the author needs to drop the martyr complex he displays in his last paragraph. Although it was never a prominent or prevalent practice, historical research shows that the Christian church throughout the ages has at times and places supported homosexual members, including through the celebration of marriage for homosexual couples. Many of us who support Scouting’s long-overdue change in policy do so from our own religious principles. Thought we differ from the author on this issue, there are many aspects of character that we do agree on, including the points of the Scout Oath and Law, even if we do not see eye-to-eye over every point of interpretation.

Scouting is a worldwide movement. American Scouting and our particular struggles over the interpretation of Christian doctrine are not the acme of the Scouting ideals. If this one issue is really so important to him that he feels he has no choice but to cede his involvement in Scouting in the event of a legal challenge, I for one will miss the richness and depth he brings to the overall tapestry of Scouting. However, that tapestry has to be a living tapestry. Scouting is supposed to be inclusive enough to be an umbrella for multiple religions and views, to adapt and grow as our society changes. I refuse to believe that this one issue is the one that will destroy Scouting.

That’s not the vibrant Scouting program I know.

Alaric’s Fundraising Progress

Just wanted to drop a quick note to you all to keep you updated on Alaric’s progress in raising funds for his 2013 Summer of Awesome. I’ve created a static page that you can go to and will keep it updated until our goal of $5,000 is met. That’s not to say that I won’t be reminding you all about it here and on Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis, but I wanted to condense all the major details down to one place.

Update: We’re around $1,365 or so, give or take some pending funds from current fundraising efforts and some pledges we’ve not yet receiving but are expecting. Thank you to everyone who has helped us out so far!

Alaric’s Summer of Awesome

Some of you might get some cognitive whiplash from the following post, given my recent vocal stance on Intel’s corporate fundraising for Boy Scouts of America. If your own views on Scouting are such that you are not able to entertain helping out or sponsoring a Scout, we understand — this post isn’t for you.

Many of you know that my son Alaric has been involved in Scouting for many years. Despite my own issues with the Scouting organization’s policies[1], we’ve seen a lot of benefits from Alaric’s involvement. There are some really great boys and adults we’ve met through Scouting and my boy has learned and grown a lot. He’s currently a Star Scout and an Ordeal member of the Order of the Arrow, and has been serving as a patrol leader for a year. Alaric is well on his way to Life Scout by the end of the year and has given himself a goal of becoming an Eagle Scout by the end of summer 2013.

Alaric receiving four merit badges
Alaric receiving four merit badges

Next summer, Alaric has the opportunity to have the kind of summer adventure that every Boy Scout can only dream of:

  • It’s time for the National Scout Jamboree. This event typically takes place once every 4 years. This year is particularly cool because it will be the first jamboree held on the new Summit grounds in West Virginia’s Bechtel Reserve wilderness area, Scouting’s new permanent jamboree home and high adventure base.
  • Alaric’s troop will be heading to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Scouting’s oldest and most famous high adventure backpacking camp. It can take years for troops to get a slot to come to Philmont for a mountain adventure.

Both of these events are usually once-in-a-lifetime events for most Boy Scouts. The fact that Alaric has the chance to go to both is amazing and requires an immense amount of commitment and dedication from him (and us).

Unfortunately, my getting laid off in July threw a huge wrench into the fund-raising portion of this adventure. The total cost to participate in both events, including airline tickets and required gear upgrades, is going to be around $5,000 for our family. If I had a steady job, this wouldn’t have been a problem — we’d have covered half and Alaric could have motored through fund raisers with his troops to get the rest covered. He’s already raised over $600 just through mowing lawns, odd jobs, and even a garage sale.

Even if you don’t want to donate to Scouting — are you willing to invest in my son? The typical Scouting fundraiser is through the sales of Trail’s End popcorn products. Trail’s End is an amazing outfit that makes online sales very easy, they produce fantastic popcorn, and they offer the choice for making donations to help send popcorn to active-duty military units.

Alaric’s popcorn pitch letter can be seen below:

Dear Dad’s Reader,

Did you know you can help send me to the National Jamboree? Just click here and place an order on my behalf. There are all kinds of products to choose from, and every product has better flavor and is better for you.

Plus, you won’t just be helping me go to Jamboree. 70% of your purchase will benefit Scouting in my area and help more kids experience all the things that make Scouting great. It’s a situation where everyone wins.

Thanks for your support,

Alaric

P.S. If you cannot click on the link above, copy and paste this full URL:
http://www.trails-end.com/shop/scouts/email_referral.jsp?id=3440240

If you would rather donate to Alaric directly, contact me using the form below.

If you’re still with me this far, thanks for reading and for your support.

[1] I have two main issues. The first is that they discriminate against gay boys, girls (several programs for older youth are co-ed), and leaders. The second is that their religious requirements discriminate against boys who are atheists or agnostic yet are willing to investigate a religion in the spirit of understanding and tolerance. Look at Girl Scouts to see how these issues can be dealt with sensibly.

The BSA Funding Hornet’s Nest

Earlier today I posted a Scouting-related tweet that provoked drew a strong reaction from several people. Here’s the tweet:

Intel Corporation: Pull your financial support until the Boy Scouts pull their anti-gay policy http://www.change.org/petitions/intel-corporation-pull-your-financial-support-until-the-boy-scouts-pull-their-anti-gay-policy … via @change

I was asked if I thought that it was better for Scouting to lose funds. I was asked how doing this would help the boys in Scouting. I was told that it was abusive and manipulative to use funding to try to effect change in Scouting’s policies over what is a relatively minor matter.

I am a former Boy Scout, my son is a Boy Scout, I have just been registered as an adult Scouter, and my daughter is looking at joining a Venture crew sometime in the next year. I think that Scouting is a fantastic youth program. So how can I support Scouts while calling for Intel to defund them?

I have two main reasons to support the petition to Intel.

Reason 1: Choices have consequences

The value of Scouting isn’t just the outdoor skills and learning how to handle yourself in the wilderness; it’s in the character formation that goes along with the outdoor program. Scouting teaches principles and duty. Scouting youth often drop out when they hit a certain age because of the peer pressure they’re getting by being different, by standing up for their beliefs and values. The kids who stay in Scouting learn that making a stand comes with consequences. It is precisely this kind of character formation that many former Scouts go on to say is the most valuable lesson they learn from Scouting.

The national Scouting organization has now said multiple times that they see having gay Scouts and Scouters as somehow being incompatible with Scouting ideals. Intel and the other companies identified in this article by Andy Birkey on The American Independent (linked to from the petition, BTW) have made their policies on charitable donations crystal clear. These policies are not new. These companies need to make sure their house is in order by verifying that their giving is in line with their policies (as the ones in orange have done). However, Scouting has a responsibility here too. By continuing to accept money from organizations such as Intel in violation of their stated donation guidelines, I believe that Scouting is sending the message that money is more important than principles. I’ve heard a lot of justification for accepting the money, but when it comes right down to it, taking donations from these companies when you don’t comply with their guidelines is hypocrisy, plain and simple. I think Scouting is better than that.

Whether I agree with the national organization’s stance on gay Scouts/Scouters or not, I think the unwritten message is doing more harm in the long run that the immediate defunding would do. I’m confident that should Scouting actually have the courage to turn down this money, alternate funding sources would quickly emerge in today’s polarized climate. Look at the Chik-Fil-A protests and responses if you doubt me. So no, I’m not worried that there would be long-term financial damage to Scouting.

It’s not like this is a theoretical situation for my family. Our local troop enjoys a high level of funding thanks to Microsoft matching contributions to the men and women who volunteer as our Scouters and committee members, many of whom are full-time Microsoft employees. I suspect that Microsoft’s policies are actually the same as Intel’s, based on their publicly stated policies for software donations to charities. If Microsoft were to stop funding Scouting (or Scouting were to stop taking Microsoft dollars because of this policy) our troop would be directly and severely affected.

I personally know at least two gay Scouters, and I suspect I know more. Scouting would somehow find the money to replace the lost donations. I don’t know how they’d replace the people I’m thinking of.

I’ve talked this over with my son on multiple occasions. When we discussed this particular petition and the fact that I was going to publicly support it, we talked about the implications. I asked him if he had any concerns. His response: “Do it, Dad. Scouting needs a kick in the ass.” (Yes, he’s my kid.)

And if you think I’m somehow being abusive or manipulative for supporting the use of defunding as a tool for policy change, go back to that Birkey article:

In a brief filed in the landmark case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, a lawyer for the LDS Church warned that the church would leave the scouts if gays were allowed to be scout leaders.

“If the appointment of scout leaders cannot be limited to those who live and affirm the sexual standards of BSA and its religious sponsors, the Scouting Movement as now constituted will cease to exist,” wrote Von G. Keetch on behalf of the LDS Church and several other religious organizations in 2000. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States — would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders.”

According to the Chartered Organizations and the Boy Scouts of America fact sheet, as of December 31, 2011 there are over 100,000 chartered Scouting units, with nearly 7/10 of them chartered by religious organizations. In the tables in that fact sheet, we see data on the top 25 religious charterers, top 20 civic charterers, and the educational charterers – giving us data on 55,100 units (just over half) and 1,031,240 youth. According to this data, the LDS Church sponsors almost 35% of the Scouting units in the BSA. Yet, according to this same data, they have only 16% of the actual youth in Scouting. The youth-to-unit average for the LDS Church is a mere 11.1, which is the lowest of any organization (or group of organizations) listed in the fact sheet data.

Several of the organizations on that list, including the next largest religious sponsor (the United Methodist Church – 11,078 units, 371,491 youth, 33.5 youth per unit, 10% of the total units, and 14% of the total youth) would support and welcome gay Scouts and Scouters. The LDS Church gets to be vocal about it because of that 1/3 number of units – that translates into money for Scouting. This kind of ultimatum is in fact what manipulative behavior (using the threat of defunding) looks like.

Reason 2: People who see a problem need to be part of the solution

I’m continuing to get more involved with Scouting for one simple reason: I believe that if I see something I think is wrong, I need to be part of the solution. I don’t think it’s right that Scouting be in a position where it can have its cake and eat it too. However, I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater; I see the incredible value the Scouting program gives to young men (and the young women who participate in the Venturer program).

My own religious beliefs and principles move me to be more involved precisely because I think Scouting needs more Scouts and Scouters who are open about their support for changing these policies. I know people who gave up on Scouting; I refuse to be one of them.

I want Scouting to change its policies, but I’m willing to keep being a part of it during those changes. I’m not trying to take my bat and ball and go home if the game doesn’t go my way. I want Scouts to continue producing young people of character for future generations.

Want to see the data I’m looking at? I got the fact sheet from the link stated above, brought the data in Excel, and added formulas for unit/youth ratios and percentages. I’ve put this spreadsheet online publicly via SkyDrive.

Support Our Scout

Edit 11/11/09 to remove the embedded video and replace it with a link. It was messing up the layout and I need to do more research to figure out how to embed videos inline.

I love living in the future. First, though, watch this video that Alaric and I made.

I was a Boy Scout for close to three years. I started as a Boy Scout; I missed Cub Scouts, including Webelos Scout. When I was in Scouting, we had to go door-to-door to do our fundraisers, or spend a lot of time with our relatives over the phone. I hated doing it, for reasons that didn’t become clear until much later in life when I began grappling with autism and Asperger’s. However, I have a lot of good memories of Scouting; it did a lot for me and it was a valuable part of my childhood.

Steph and I wanted Alaric to experience Scouting. Even though the modern BSA has some characteristics that I don’t agree with, I’ve come to the decision that first and foremost, Scouting is about the boys. Scouting needs intelligent, reasonable adults of all persuasions to help drive the program. By being part of Scouting, Alaric will learn and do things Steph and I can’t give him on our own; by having us there with him, Alaric will learn how to deal with people from differing backgrounds in a diplomatic and productive manner.

Over the summer, Alaric has really seen what a good thing Scouting is. He even got me to go to Scout Camp with him for four days in July, and I must admit I even had fun. It was a great experience for both of us, including facing down and conquering some challenges.

Unlike many Scout packs and troops, Alaric’s pack works on the schedule of the school year. As a result, they do their major fundraising push at the beginning of the school year with a number of activities. Alaric’s already helped out pulling Hire-A-Scout wagons at the local auto swap meet and had a great time. However, the major source of operating funds is the traditional Trail’s End popcorn fundraiser. Trail’s End, if you don’t know, has been the go-to-source for Scout fundraising for a long time, and they offer some of the best popcorn on the planet.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been rather hectic and busy and haven’t really had time to coach Alaric on his first door-to-door sales campaign. (Poor guy seems to have the same issues I did when I was his age, so it was pretty painful.) This last week, I came up with what is I hope a brainstorm: harness the power of the Internet to get Alaric’s sales pitch out there. So, you get to enjoy the results: the following video where Alaric and I pitch popcorn to YOU, the faithful reader. And because this is the future, Trail’s End even got with the program: they now allow you to purchase online, supporting a specific Scout, and have the product shipped directly to your door!

Go to Trail’s End to support Alaric’s fundraising for his pack

Thank you for your support!